Farmers’ Tribute: St Thomas’ Rice Pudding
Every month Grazia Barletta prepares a recipe from Christian tradition in her Cape Town kitchen, and shares it with our readers in text and photos taken exclusively for The Southern Cross by the chef herself.
Thomas the Apostle, also called Didymus, was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. He is commonly known as “Doubting Thomas” because he questioned the reports that Jesus had appeared to ten of the other apostles — until he could see and feel for himself the wounds received by Jesus on the cross. People use the phrase “a Doubting Thomas” to refer to a sceptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.
Thomas was born in Galilee to a humble Jewish family. After the Resurrection, he spread the Gospel as far as India, where he was martyred on December 21, 72 AD.
On his feast day, July 3, farmers in England would distribute their reserves of wheat from the harvest to the poor. They would boil the wheat down until soft, then add milk, sugar and spices. It was very similar to how rice pudding is made today.
In our part of the world, rice pudding is great winter comfort food. For our recipe, we best use arborio rice, an Italian short-grain named after the town Arborio Risotto.
It’s usually used for risotto and rice pudding because, once cooked, the starchy, rounded grains are firm, creamy and chewy compared to other rice varieties.
Preparation: 80 min • Servings: 8
- 1 cup arborio rice (basmati and jasmine can be used as alternatives)
- 3 cups full-cream milk
- 2 ½ cups water
- ½ cup sugar
- Grated zest of half a lemon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon (more for dusting)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Raisins (optional, but add at least 15 minutes to the cooking time)
- Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the rice, cover with the lid. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- In a large bowl, whisk the milk, sugar, salt, vanilla, zest and cinnamon.
- When the rice is cooked and drained, add the milk mixture (and, if wanted, raisins) to it.
- Place the mixture in an ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. The rice may be a bit liquid but it should thicken upon standing.
- Once transferred to serving dishes, dust extra cinnamon on top. Serve warm or at room temperature, and enjoy with a prayer to St Thomas!
Grazia Barletta is an author, book designer, and food photographer & stylist. Grazia Barletta’s cookbook Delicious Italian Moments of authentic Italian recipes, with the author’s own photography can be ordered at R200 (plus p&p) at momentswithgrazia.com
This article was published in the August 2021 issue of the Southern Cross magazine