If pushed, I might just have to admit that Kingsley Amis is my favourite writer. Perhaps because of this, I also happen to love the work of his long-suffering partner, the late (great) Elizabeth Jane Howard. Howard's love of cooking may have bypassed Amis, who famously preferred vats of booze to her carefully crafted meals, but she did manage to hand it along to a young Tamasin Day-Lewis while the latter's father lay dying, poetically, in the Amis' home. After some searching I tracked down a copy of On Food (as opposed, I now wonder, to Amis' brilliant On Drinking) a book she wrote with Fay Maschler in the 1980's. It was worth the effort, for the writing is superb. This, from a chapter titled Jane Grigson to Dinner sums up why rice pudding has been, for a long time, something I have actively avoided:
To restore delectability to a dish that has been desecrated and damaged by institutional, or simply negilgent cooking, is a crafty tactic in the business of feeding a foodie. Rice pudding, sinned against by schools, hospitals, prisons, no doubt, and the nursery is an ideal candidate.
For all that sinning - and the sins above are great indeed - rice pudding is simply not a dessert I grew up with, therefore, I don't long for it in the way that, say, Peter and his boys do. Then, one weekend some months ago, I found myself with a litre of super-fresh raw milk and no use for it. Rice pudding finally called.
Simple things, done well, are worth mastering. My rice pudding is based, rather loosely, on Nigella Lawson's in How to Eat. Need I also add that this is gluten-free dessert at its easiest? Good milk makes all the difference here. Raw if you can get it, but failing that, full-fat unhomgenised milk that is either organic or, better still, biodynamic. Trust me.
a rice pudding
Preheat the oven to 150 C. In an oven-proof dish you will be serving the pudding in at the table, place a large knob of butter. The real stuff, please. Pop the dish in the oven while it comes to temperature so the butter melts gently, then swirl it around the dish, just to coat things. I often skip this and just whack a knob of butter in with the following ingredients, but your call. Add 4 level tablespoons of arborio rice (3 if you're using Australian measures), lots of vanilla extract (a split-and-scraped pod or 2 would be ideal, but one is not always made of money), 3 level tablespoons of sugar (of your choice, of course) and 500 mls (2 cups) of milk. You will probably need more milk along the way, so make sure you have some. Stir well, and place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, stirring every half hour or so, adding more milk as you see fit.
Serve with big splodges of jam, at the table.