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~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d42943ffe970c-800wiI was in the seventh grade ('68) when I began my love affair with rice pudding.  Tamaqua Area's Junior High was located on Broad Street and it'd been the former High School.  By the time our class attended, its "swan song year", it was an old, dilapidated building (which has since been replaced with a high-rise).  We were only schooled there for one year, while construction on our fabulous new high school complex was being completed, but I can tell you this:  each and every one of us has some sort of creepy, haunted-house tale to tell about this place.  Read on:  

They didn't have a cafeteria (or even hot water), so they let us inmates go out onto the streets of downtown Tamaqua for lunch every day.  Right next to the school was The Royal Restaurant, which, because of us kids, had a thriving 12-year-old lunch crowd.  On a side note, it is at "The Royal" that I began my love affair with rice pudding.  The Royal was owned by Mike and Jean Cappos, with Mike doing most of the cooking and Jean working the front of the the house.

8735_146931763818_558503818_2534976_869484_nIn the late 1960's and early 70's, Mrs. Cappos and my mom were friends.  She had two sons, Michael and David, which were the same ages and in the same grades as my brother and I (Mike and I went to school together and the two David's, three years younger, went to school together).  We all lived in the suburb of Hometown and they lived across the street from the Sky Lanes Bowling Center, where we kids often met on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to entertain ourselves.  Afterwards, we'd go across the street to the Cappos's to wait for mom or dad to come and pick us up.  While the boys were playing outside, I enjoyed sitting in her kitchen and watching her make giant pans of food for the restaurant.  It is there I first tasted homemade rice pudding.  She baked hers in the oven.  In her kitchen, she would give me a scoop while it was still warm, and, on a Monday at Noon in the restaurant, after lunch she'd give me a scoop of it cold for dessert (and never charged me for it). Mrs. Cappos said it was her thanks to me helping her make it (which really wasn't the case).

PICT2696Fast forward to the 1980's when I met my husband's family.  I am here to tell you:  the Italian cooks in Pennsylvania's Scranton Wilkes-Barre area (where he is from) have recipes for rice pudding that elevate this simple dish to an art form.  They mostly make theirs on the stovetop, and, they are not easily coerced into sharing their secrets either.  I know of one circumstance where the rice pudding recipe went to the grave with the 90-something great-grandmother, who flat-out refused to tell anyone how to make it.  In another instance, the recipe and the special-sized pot it gets prepared in get handed down to one special person, from generation to generation, along with the family jewelry.

PICT2692Two Scranton secrets I learned over the years:  

#1)  Rice pudding requires short-grain starchy rice.  The high starch kernels in Italian grown Arborio rice are shorter and fatter than any other short-grained rice.  Arborio rice is traditionally used for making risotto, because its increased starch lends this classic dish its requisite creamy texture.  Well, it works the same magic with rice pudding too.

PICT2689#2)  If you like raisins in your rice pudding, soak them overnight in water to plump them. Soaking them in Grand Marnier, not only plumps them, it infuses them with Mel's signature orange flavor.

For the raisins (optional) (Note:  If opting to include raisins, soak them as directed above.):

1  cup golden raisins 

Grand Marnier,  a brandy-based, orange-flavored French liqueur, enough to cover the raisins

PICT2695For the rice:

1  cup Italian Arborio rice

2  cups whole milk

1/2  teaspoon sea salt







For the silky orange-kissed "custard" mixture:

4  cups whole milk

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup sugar

1  teaspoon pure almond extract, not imitation

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

4  whole cinnamon sticks

2  vanilla beans, cut in half, lengthwise

zest from 1  large orange (Note:  If you are preparing this rice pudding without the Grand Marnier soaked raisins and orange/or zest, substitute/add the zest of one lemon and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in Step 5.

2-3 jumbo eggs

For topping (optional):

1  cup crushed almond biscotti + whole almond biscotti (as many as needed)

6a0120a8551282970b0168e8a39d66970c~ Step 1. To prepare the "custard": Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut each vanilla bean in half and then cut each half in half lengthwise. Using a sharp paring knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod.






~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, place the milk, cream, butter, sugar, extracts, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and vanilla pods.  Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is steaming hot.  Do not allow to simmer or boil. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to steep for 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods.  While the "custard" is steeping:

PICT2698~ Step 3.  To pre-cook the rice:  In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the milk, rice and salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring frequently for 6 minutes. Watch carefully, as this mixture has a tendency to want to boil over. Rice will be partially-cooked and slightly thickened.  

Remove from heat, cover and set aside until the "custard" is done steeping.

PICT2691~ Step 4.  After you have removed the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods from the "custard" mixture, stir the rice mixture into the "custard" mixture.  Place on the stovetop over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer gently, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 15 minutes, to cool slightly. While mixture is cooling:

PICT2693~ Step 5.  Drain all Grand Marnier/liquid from the optional raisins.  Using a microplane grater, zest the orange. In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the eggs.  Place the drained raisins, and orange zest in the slightly-cooled rice mixture. In a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly, add the eggs.  Return to heat and simmer very gently for 3 additional minutes.

~ Step 6.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 2-4-6 hours.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, topping each portion with crushed almond biscotti:

PICT2691My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding:  Recipe yields 10 cups.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; paring knife; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; slotted spoon; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; microplane grater; whisk

PICT2700Cook's Note:  In our household, when we serve rice pudding right out of the refrigerator, we call it "Rice Cream".

Extra Cook's Note:  Maybe you've noticed I've kept the words "custard" and "custard mixture" in quotes throughout the recipe. Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this recipe is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That being said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe it and its preparation.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Photo of Tamaqua Area High School courtesy of Donnie Serfass, Managing Editor of The Times News, Tamaqua's daily newspaper, and, fellow TAHS class of '73 friend and classmate!)

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


Joe! You made me smile. If I do say so myself, this is the "be all and end all of all rice pudding recipes"! Thanks for your lovely comment!!! ~ Mel.

I LOVE this Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding. I need to go to my mom to tell her to make me something like this. Great photos that makes me flow slaver:))

Susan! You just made my day! What more can I say! Thank-you! ~ Mel.

My goodness... just made this for the family and I have to say it was beyond any rice pudding we expected or have ever eaten. Utterly divine. It's pointless trying out any other recipe!

Good Morning Marilyn! Some of my favorite posts are the ones where I get to tell a story from my Tamaqua days. We really did live in a special time and place! The Palma Maria and Napoli were two of my favorite places for pizza and hoagies in Tamaqua. In Hometown is was Vitalie's! More stories to come... ~ Mel.

Well Melanie you have done it again! Rice pudding is hands down my favorite dessert. Although I did not have it at the Royal Restaurant, I did have my share of french fries with gravy! I ate most of mine at Scrafford's, where my mom worked. Nana O'Lear, the owners mom, made all the desserts. Her version was creamy, had gobs of cinnamon, and dark raisins. I have not be able to recreate this. I have been using long grain rice, just whole milk, and not soaking the raisins! I love the touch of orange in your recipe. I will make this on the weekend!
Thanks for the clarification about the owners of the Royal. I remember Mike Cappos as a very sweet, quiet , young man. What is he doing now?
I love the pic of the old junior high. Remember the disgusting showers, with the hole in the cement wall, where the boys could peek in? You did know about that, didn't you?
Well, I'm skipping over to your post about the onions. Hmm, I wonder if you will mention the Palma Maria restaurant, with the fab hoagies, with tons of onions? Why did I leave Tamaqua?
Thanks again for your sharing your talents. You are the bestest Mel!



P.S. My mom almost named me Melanie, but she had such a hard time with her delivery,she named me after her nurse - Marilyn!
I did not know this until after I became a nurse, then she told me!
Of course, I'm glad because there is only one Melanie in my book!

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