All photos by Ted Axelrod
We’re not going to win any locavore kudos for this rice pudding recipe, except for one, very important ingredient: the milk.
Since last fall, Ted has been traveling around the state, photographing the Maine farms that are members of the Maine’s Own Organic cooperative. The dogs and I have tagged along on a couple of weekends, giving me a fondness for sweet-faced dairy cows and an enormous appreciation for the lives of dairy farmers.
Unlike other kinds of farmers, dairy farmers can’t take a vacation — unless they have reliable help. Those girls need to be milked twice a day, every day, no matter what the weather. Most of the MOO farms are small, family operations; as soon as the kids are old enough to hold a rake and muck out the dirty hay from the milking barn, they pitch in too.
I’ve never been much of a milk-drinker, getting most of my dairy from yogurt and cheese. But now I know that when milk is fresh, local and not ultra-pasteurized, it’s truly delicious. Most organic milk in the supermarket is ultra-pasteurized, meaning it’s pasteurized at a super-high heat to give it a long shelf life. It’s essentially “dead” milk — all the nutrients have been removed. Not MOO.
Still, drinking a glass of milk still isn’t something I do on a regular basis, but I am finding more ways to incorporate it into cooking. Thus, this rice pudding, which I’ve jazzed up beyond basic with orange zest, vanilla bean and a snappy garnish of chopped pistachios and ginger — none of which are remotely local. But I’m convinced that it’s rich, tasty MOO Milk that makes it truly special. It’s made on the stovetop — some rice pudding recipes are baked — and while you can serve it warm, I think the flavors come together when it’s had a chance to chill in the fridge for a while. Feel free to tinker around with the flavorings; if you don’t have a vanilla bean (which can be pricey), add a teaspoon of vanilla extract at the same time as the orange zest.
3/4 cup Carolina Gold rice (I used their jasmine rice, available at Hannaford)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 cups MOO Milk (I used 2 percent, which was plenty rich)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten (local, of course)
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup each chopped candied ginger and chopped pistachios for garnish
In a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan, combine the rice, 1 1/2 cup water and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stir once, turn heat to low and simmer, covered, for 6-10 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed.
Add 4 cups of the milk, the sugar and the vanilla bean, stirring well. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes to make sure rice is not sticking.
Whisk in the beaten egg and cook for one more minute, stirring.
Remove the pan from the heat. Fish out the vanilla bean, slit it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the point of a small knife, adding them to the rice. (Don’t worry if you don’t get them all.) Add the remaining cup of milk, the orange zest and cinnamon and return to the stove over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the pudding is thickened.
Transfer the pudding to a heatproof bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly onto the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until cold before serving.
Adapted from “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook” by Cheryl and Griffith Day