The Taste of Portugal
FROM THE MINHO PROVINCE, BUT ADOPTED COUNTRYWIDE
Serves 8 to 10
Vicencia brought in the rice pudding, and we said grace.
Eça de Queiroz, A Relíquia (The Relic)
This is an absolute must at the Portuguese table for any celebration, be it Christmas, birthdays, weddings, parties, special days of all kinds. It is so widely appreciated that any day, in fact, is ‘rice-pudding day’, and restaurants, snackbars and other eating places always have it at hand.
Rice pudding Portuguese style is made on top of the stove and is meant to be creamy but not very wet (it can in fact be taken out of the mould when cold). Whether served in individual dishes or on a large platter, Portuguese rice pudding must always be adorned with embroidery-like motifs made with cinnamon: heart shapes, initials (if it is intended for someone’s birthday), flowers, lattice designs. This is done by pinching a little cinnamon between one’s thumb and the first finger and skilfully letting it drop over the rice. The operation may take a little while, depending on the amount of decoration needed and on the dexterity of the decorator! The children of the house soon get interested and quite adept at this pleasant occupation and normally share it among themselves, comparing results afterwards – and, more often than not, boasting if they think their work was the best!
It is worth making more rice pudding than the amount needed for one sitting, because it keeps well from one day to another (or even for a couple of days), and although it dries out, it will certainly be very good to the end.
Wash the rice and cook it for 25 minutes (until tender) in 2½ times its volume of boiling water, with the salt and lemon rind.When cooked, remove the lemon rind and add the boiling milk and vanilla pod, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Simmer until the liquid is reduced and the rice is really soft and creamy (20-30 minutes). Stir now and then. Add the sugar and boil again for 3-4minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the egg yolks. Bring to the boil (without allowing further boiling) just to cook the yolks. Taste for sugar (remember that it tastes sweeter when hot than after it has cooled down) and add a little more if liked. Pour into individual bowls or onto a large platter. Decorate, Portuguese style, as indicated above.
Do not be alarmed if some rice sticks to the bottom of the pan. This always happens, and care has to be taken not to allow it to burn, by stirring with the wooden spoon but without attempting to bring up the stuck layer, which would ruin the appearance of the rice. That layer can be scraped at the end and eaten by the cook as a special reward (it is the best part). Serve at room temperature.