March 23, 2014

I’ve been collecting them

On Friday, the first strawberries of the season arrived in my farm box, ushering in that mystical eight-month strawberry season that I always talk about. We ate them (with gusto if not a bit of trepidation at having something so sweet and summer-like on our tongues) with poppyseed-challah french toast. 

Then, I turned to the heap of citrus on my countertop, wondering what to make of the fifteen, maybe twenty?, navel oranges that have been coming in for weeks via my Friday delivery. At this point, it’s like I’ve been collecting them, waiting for a future moment in which I will come up with something brilliant to make… something other than juice, and something less involved than marmalade. That first strawberry signaled that this was the moment—in fact, it screamed to me, as fruit is wont to do, YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME. So, although it is finally spring (hooray!), and although I am anxious to move into the realm of rhubarb and artichokes and spring onions and favas and sweet, small berries of every variety, I offer you today an ode to citrus in the manner of a stovetop rice pudding, with whiskey-drunk orange supremes. We can all thank Apt. 2B Baking Co., and her party—her veritable brigade—of sweet, sunny, tart, ambrosial citrus ideas that I found when looking for help with my orange problem.

This pudding is a citrus party for your palette. You’ll use five oranges, which is a start, my friends. Then you can turn to David Tanis’s ambrosia to finish the job. After that, I would suggest an orange-cornmeal upside-down cake, which may be my next move. We’re going to need room on our countertops. 

Thank you, citrus, for making the winter sunny and pretty. Make way for spring. 

Orange-Scented Rice Pudding
Adapted from Apt. 2B Baking Co.

Notes: I think I cooked my pudding a bit too long and toward the end it curdled slightly, and the texture of the custard became less silken. It was still good, but if I make it again, I would do this: When you return the pudding to the saucepan after whisking it into the heavy cream, egg, and juice mixture, simmer on very low heat, and watch carefully, removing after about 8 minutes. It may look like there is too much liquid, but it will continue to thicken after it cools. Also, I think regular old citrus segments would work just fine here. In the future, I will skip the trouble of making the whiskey-drunk orange supremes below, and just segment some oranges, toss them with a little whiskey and honey and some of their zest, and call it a day. The crushed pistachios, however, while optional, are really a nice touch. 

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 orange
1 cup arborio rice
4 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cups heavy cream
1 egg yolk
Handful of pistachios, chopped, for garnish

Place the sugar in a medium bowl. Scrap the seeds from the vanilla bean pod, and add to the sugar (reserve the pod). Zest the orange over the bowl. Combine sugar, zest, and vanilla seeds with your hands until thoroughly distributed. 

Peel the orange with a knife, removing first the top and bottom, and then slicing the skin off from top to bottom so the segments are revealed. Then segment the orange over a small, separate bowl. Squeeze the juice from the membrane, and reserve it in a measuring cup—you should have about 1/4 cup. 

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, milk, vanilla bean pod, pinch of kosher salt, and sugar mixture. At a medium to low flame, bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn it down to low once it begins bubbling, and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Do not overcook. (As an aside, no one will notice if you sample the delicious, milky skin that forms on the surface of the pudding at this stage—it is reason alone to make this.)

While the rice is simmering, whisk together the egg yolk, cream, and reserved 1/4 cup of orange juice in a large bowl. 

When the rice mixture is ready, as described above, remove it from the heat. Fish out the vanilla bean pod, which can be rinsed and saved for another purpose. Then slowly whisk the rice mixture into the bowl with the whisked cream, egg, and juice. Start with a very small amount in a steady stream, to temper the egg so that it doesn’t scramble, then continue at a slow but steady pace, until fully incorporated, whisking constantly. 

Return the mixture to the saucepan, and cook it over very low heat for about 8 minutes. The rice pudding will have thickened slightly, but will still appear liquid-y. Take care not to let it go too long, or to come to a full boil, to prevent curdling. The pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled, topped with chopped pistachios. 

Whiskey-Drunk Orange Supremes (optional):
As mentioned in the notes, I would skip this next time, favoring instead just a simple segmented orange, maybe with a splash of whiskey and a drizzle of honey, but this recipe is true to the original, and what I did. 

4 oranges, plus the segments reserved from the pudding recipe
2/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons whiskey, honey whiskey, or bourbon

Zest the oranges into a shallow baking dish, then peel and segment them (see instructions in the pudding recipe above) directly into the same dish. Squeeze the juice from the membranes over both segments and zest. Sprinkle with the booze.

In a cold, dry pan, place the sugar and distribute it so it coats the bottom somewhat evenly. Place this over a medium-low flame, and allow it to cook, undisturbed, until the sugar begins to melt. When it starts to color in places, give it a stir with a wooden spoon, and then allow it to simmer gently until it is amber-colored and liquid. 

Pour the caramel over the oranges—it will immediately harden. Break up the hard bits as best you can with a spoon, and then cover and refrigerate for an hour. The caramel will have oozed into the juices by this point, becoming liquid. 

Serve chilled over the pudding. 

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