Sweet risotto reminds me of my grandmother, and her closely-guarded recipe for rice pudding. I don’t remember much about my grandmother’s kitchen, only a tiny table, a white stove, real New York frankfurters cooked in mustard water, a crystal candy jar full of Jolly Ranchers, and her rice pudding.
She guarded her recipes. After years of marriage to my father, my mother finally proved her worth and eked out my grandmother’s recipe for rice pudding, though I’m not entirely convinced my grandmother included all the ingredients on that little slip of paper she handed my mother. While I don’t have her recipe, and certainly wouldn’t publish it here lest I bring down her fury from the grave, I thought I’d share with you my favorite recipe which is less a rice pudding than it is a sweet risotto, flavored with cardamom and vanilla, and spiked with the pleasant sourness of cultured buttermilk.
Cultured Buttermilk for Sweet Risotto
For this sweet risotto, I combine cultured buttermilk with whole milk which produces an extraordinarily creamy, but slightly tart dessert. The buttermilk pairs well with the rice and its abrupt tartness is softened by the use of honey and fresh orange juice.You can use store-bought buttermilk, but it often contains additives; I favor making buttermilk at home as it’s impossibly easy. You simply need a starter, which you can find online or in well-stocked health food stores. Whisk it with a bit of milk, set it on the counter overnight and the next day you have cultured buttermilk.
- ½ cup sultanas (or substitute raisins)
- ½ cup amaretto
- 4 cups whole milk (preferably not ultrapasteurized)
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 vanilla beans
- 1 ceylon cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- ⅓ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup arborio or carnaroli rice
- 1 medium orange (juiced and zested)
- Place the sultanas in a small bowl, and cover them with amaretto. Allow them to plump in the liquor while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Pour milk and buttermilk together in a 2-quart saucepan. Drop the spices into the milk, and stir in honey. Warm the liquid ingredients over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, taking care not to let them boil.
- Melt butter in a wide skillet over medium-low heat. When it froths, stir in the rice. Stir the rice frequently until its edges become slightly translucent, then stir in the orange zest. Stir in the sultanas and amaretto. Working ½ cup at a time, strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve into your rice. Stir the rice continually until all the liquid is absorbed, then strain the remaining milk – a ½ cup at a time – into the rice until it is all absorbed. Stir in the orange juice into the rice, and continue stirring until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender and cooked through. Serve warm.