Sweet nothings – Rizógalo – Greek Rice Pudding

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It occurred to me recently that I have only posted a couple of sweet recipes so far. Truth be known, perhaps I am happier with the savoury palette than the sweet – or maybe I don’t have the patience for a lot of fiddling around with confections of sugar and butter. Having said that, there is comfort and consolation and a different magic to be found in sweetness.

On the whole, the pudding course is not a feature of meals in Greece – fresh fruit is most frequently served at the end of a meal. So puddings are not just confined to the after-dinner spot; a mid-morning snack of sugar-dusted bougátsa,  or a portion of freshly fried loukoumádes,  definitely sets you up for the rest of the day. And there can be nothing more refreshing than a siesta ‘breakfast’ of  coffee and a delectable, sticky something – maybe a piece of the nordic-named ‘kopenhághi’  ( a confection of syrupy cake and pastry), or glorious galaktobóureko … whoever thought that it was right to translate such sublime creamy sweetness as custard pie…..?

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And then there is rizógalo. You could, if you wanted, call it rice pudding, and I do have a great affection for the British version, complete with the toasted crust over creamy baked rice. But I think that would be doing rizógalo a disservice – Greek rice pudding is a totally different dish.

For a start, it is made on the top of the stove and is always, but always, served chilled. What can be more pleasing, than to wake in the more bearable part of a  hot summer’s afternoon and  find a cool bowl of rizógalo in the fridge.  Redolent with a liberal dusting of fragrant, ground cinnamon, it bears no relation to our oven-cooked version.  It is refreshing, light and elegant – and in my view, a challenger to pannacotta on the dining tables of the world.

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Rizogálo is supremely, easy to make and traditionally, is always served covered in ground cinnamon. However I think that the cool creaminess is the perfect foil for all sorts of different flavours. I have tried adding a little rose-water at the end of cooking, and when cooled, add a dusting of rose-sugar and dried petals. Another favourite, is to flavour the pudding with a little ground masticha and then finished off with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and a drizzle of masticha liqueur. With a little imagination, the versions are endless – and endlessly pleasing too.

The traditional recipe though is the best place to start.

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Rizógalo

200 gm short grain rice

400 ml water

750 ml milk – I prefer to use full fat milk for this but semi-skimmed or skimmed will do.

150 gm sugar

A few drops of vanilla essence (optional)

1 desert spoon of cornflour mixed with a little cold milk (optional)

Ground cinnamon

Put the rice and water in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a steady simmer, stirring occaisionally. Leave it to cook gently until the rice has absorbed most of the water.

Add the milk  and mix with the softened rice. Raise the heat slightly to bring the mixture back to a steady simmer. Stir from time to time to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. It’s important to keep the heat high enough to cook but not so high that it burns.

When the mixture is getting quite thick and the rice is soft, add the sugar and stir well again until dissolved completely. Cook for another  5-7 minutes.

Add any flavouring, for example vanilla essence, at this point.

If you want to make sure that the pudding sets well, it is common to add a little diluted cornflour towards the end of the cooking. If you take this option, add it after the sugar and stir very well for the last 3 minutes of cooking.

While still warm divide the mixture between sundae dishes or small glasses and allow to cool. This quantity will serve 6 – 8 people, depending on the size of the dishes used.

Dust the puddings with plenty of  ground cinnamon and refrigerate.

Serve chilled.

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