Rice's mild flavor makes it a culinary chameleon, suited for almost any purpose. One often-overlooked use for rice is in desserts such as rice pudding, where its starches thicken the sauce and provide a smooth, comforting texture. You can make rice pudding by baking leftover cooked rice with milk and vanilla, or by treating it as a sort of sweet risotto and cooking it on the stovetop. Either method makes a creamy, smooth dessert.
Cooked Rice Method
Spray a glass or ceramic baking dish with pan spray, and fill it loosely with cooked rice until it's about two-thirds full. Break up any lumps of rice with your fingers, as you add it. Measure the rice in a measuring cup, then pour it back into the baking dish.
Measure out 1 1/2 cups of milk or half-and-half for every cup of rice, and whisk in about one-third cup of sugar. You can adjust the sweetness to your taste, or use alternative sweeteners. Heat the milk in your microwave until it's hot to the touch, then add a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Add optional ingredients such as raisins or citrus zest to the rice, and toss it gently. Pour the milk mixture over the rice, and sprinkle the top with cinnamon.
Bake the pudding at 325 Fahrenheit until it's thick and creamy, which can take as little as 45 minutes for a small batch or up to two hours for a large one. Serve warm or cold.
Uncooked Rice Method
Minimize the risk of scorching your pudding by choosing a heavy-bottomed saucepan. One cup of uncooked rice makes roughly four cups of finished pudding, and you'll need some space for stirring, so you should use at least a 1 1/2 to 2-quart pan.
Measure 2 1/2 cups of milk or half-and-half for every cup of long-grain rice you use. Arborio rice and other medium-grained rices are starchier and can thicken more liquid, so you can cut the rice by half. That makes a much creamier dessert.
Combine the rice and milk in your pot at moderate heat, with about a quarter-cup of sugar for every cup of long-grain rice. You can adjust the sweetness to your taste.
Add a half vanilla bean or half-teaspoon of vanilla for each cup of long-grain rice. Bring the rice to a gentle simmer over moderate heat and cook it slowly, stirring regularly, for 30 to 45 minutes. It's better to go slow and cook for a long time, rather than try to rush it and scorch your pudding to the bottom of the pot.
Taste the rice periodically, until it's soft and the sauce has thickened. Remove the pot from the heat. If the pudding is very thick, stir in a small amount of heavy cream to thin it, which gives it a richer flavor. Serve the rice pudding warm or cold.