Snow falls lightly on cars and trees that line the road, flitting flecks pass by the window like the cheery white plastic particles in a snow dome. Last summer went in the blink of an eye, or did it really happen at all (save for that weekend where I was stuck behind a barbeque inside a tent for the Food Network “On Fire” event)? Another gloomy scene in this endless winter made light by the whiteness, and more humorous by people walking with cat-like preening faces thanks to the icy wind.
I make a coffee, the toasted smoked scent of the coffee reminds me of a time sat huddled amongst the tourists in a crowded Caffè Florian, the aroma of the so called “Satanic Brew” mingled with the smell of cigarettes, complemented even; the shot being just enough to give a scalding dose of warmth for the morning ahead. Like the customers had done for many centuries, we gathered to avoid the sharp alpine winds from one side and the blustery Adriatic winds on the other side. People to the left of me, people to the right of me, little room to lift my cup (little room to lift my little finger as I hold the cup) unaware perhaps that it is thanks to the Island City’s trading links with Moka, in Yemen and a “baptism” by Pope Clement VIII that they enjoy their drinks.
My current coffee is disrespectfully large and weakened by heated milk, in a mug big enough to warm my fingers (and flat) but the memory got me thinking about a hearty recipe I have wanted to do for some time. A friend, Little Miss Didds often asked me “Louis, what are you doing to my language” when I spoke Italian. Now in a similar spirit I am risking her asking me what I am doing to her cultural cuisine.
The last remaining stalk of parsley from a decimated plant stares suspiciously at me as I proceed to remove equipment and measure out my ingredients, but I am preparing a risotto; a sweet one; essentially, a rice pudding with a coffee custard sauce.
Just beyond the City State, the Veneto’s plains grow a large percentage of Italy’s risotto rice, although the Emiglia Romana is technically the heartland, meaning that we can eat it in vast proportions. While the Moors introduced rice to Sicily it was only in the fifteenth century that Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, boasting in a letter to the Duke of Ferrara, recorded the cultivation of rice rather than just importing it (as with the Greeks, rice had been a staple for centuries but through trade rather than cultivation). I should name the pudding after the place that links both rice and coffee.
Dolce di Risotto con Caffè Latte (serves 4 greedy, 6 regular or 8-10 ‘Super Model’ guests)
225g Arborio Risotto rice
1 cup of strong espresso
1 shot of Kahlua (or even Amaretto if you want a variant flavour) approx 75ml
800 – 900ml of full fat milk
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp caster sugar
3-4 drops vanilla extract
A walnut sized knob of butter
First get your espresso ready to heat (but not yet). Pour the Kahlua, and vanilla extract into a jug, set aside. Separate the egg and measure the sugar. In a pan heat the milk to scald but not boil.
As with regular risotto, melt the butter in a heavy based pan on a moderate to high heat. Once sizzling add the risotto rice and stir until it has a glossy buttery coat then put in a ladle of milk to absorb, constantly stirring, ensuring each addition has been fully absorbed before adding the next ladle.
I have found that milk absorbs more slowly than stock, probably due to the fat content of milk. This means it taking more time from guests, so preparing just before they arrive and pausing at the halfway stage, then covering tightly with a lid and restarting a little later works, though really no more than an hour as rice absorbs bacteria very easily. If doing this, ensure that it is piping hot when serving.
In the final stages, when it is just about done (it should be slightly nutty but not as nutty as a savoury risotto) add the coffee and let that absorb, then add the liqueur. To one side mix the yolk with the sugar. Slake the yolk mix with a bit of the risotto, stirring all the time, then return to it to the risotto. Continue to stir vigorously to prevent the egg from scrambling. The addition of the egg gives the pudding the custardy richness. Once you have the light custard sauce of single cream consistency you are ready.
Serve in breakfast sized coffee cups or bowls with langue de chat biscuits (and more liqueur on the side!)
Even in small amounts, there is a warming and comforting sense to this pudding. Bitterness from the concentrated coffee is muffled, scarf like by the custard that wraps around the slightly firm to the bite rice grains, by the vanilla and by the sugar. The whoosh of fortifying booze along with the chemical element of caffeine allow for a pep, but it is only a pause between that and the need to slow down, slip off the shoes and cushion the nicely rounded belly. Think darkened rooms, think candles, think log fires and soft music, think smooth mellow custardy coffee with a rich stream of alcohol; but don’t think of the cold and the wind outside.
NB if you have a gas foam canister, try making a Cappucino version, adding milk to gelatine to create a foam top on the rice then chocolate shavings. Or, alternatively make a Mocha version with cocoa powder in the coffee and liqueur mix.