I love spring because my CSA starts again, rescuing me from a winter of badly-planned grocery shopping where I fill my house with too many cabbages destined to be forgotten in the back of the fridge. I always have grandiose plans for my cabbages, plans I promptly forget when I need them, as if they were only beautiful dreams from the deepest of sleeps. But I digress... Back to my CSA. This week, I bought a pint of pulpy strawberries that looked and tasted too good to be wasted on my kids' afternoon snack. (It's not that my kids don't deserve good strawberries, but the afternoon is usually a time of angry screaming and hurled toys, so rock-hard pears would do just fine. Am I digressing again?) I thought about it for a while, and I remembered the recipe for Strawberry Risotto that I had so loved in my childhood. I probably had it only twice then, but I tried it again a few years ago and found it lovely.
I thought that recipe for Strawberry Risotto would be perfect for the blog, so I started researching its origin to give you, my dear readers, some damn culture. As I started my Web browsing, I was already beginning to imagine an adorable alpine village in the north of Italy, nestled in the middle of a perfumed grazing pasture and animated by colorful wildflowers waving in the breeze. There, a small group of stern but kind matrons would throw handfuls of fragrant wild strawberries in a rice cauldron, stirring the Risotto with their massive wooden spoons around and around... Sadly, my Italian daydreaming was stopped short. My research immediately revealed that Strawberry Risotto was not an ancient Italian tradition. In fact, it's nothing but A FANCY RECIPE FROM THE 70s, a self-satisfied gimmick of a culinary period that thought itself above history and taste, and possibly the Italian equivalent of this Chicken Fricasee. My bucolic fantasy was shattered. I saw the wildflowers wilt with a cracking sound, and adorable black-and-white cows stampede all over my imaginary matrons and their northern village. A cloud of hairspray engulfed the land, and massive vol-au-vents began hailing all around me. Then everything turned glossy, and I passed out.
Well, not really. I find 70s food amusing, actually, but this time I wasn't interested, so I decided to employ my strawberries in a different direction. I still liked the idea of rice and strawberries, and so I researched a dessert that would use them both. I found this recipe for Torta di Riso al Balsamico con Fragole, which is fancier than my adaptation here given its inclusion of balsamic vinegar, but whatever. What I did was a very simple sushi rice cooked in milk and then mixed with sugar, egg, and a little rum. I spooned the mix into a cake pan in two batches, so that I could have a layer of sliced strawberries in the middle. The result is a simple, pretty cake that is the emblem of spring. It is light and delicious, and perfect for a picnic. And, in case you need it, it's also gluten-free.
Garnish it with good fresh strawberries, if you have them, and eat it warm, or at room temperature, or cold. And let's forget that the 70s are back.
STRAWBERRY RICE TORTE
3 C milk
1 1/2 C sushi rice (or other short-grain starchy rice like Arborio)
1 C sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp rum
1 Pint of strawberries (half for the filling, half or less for topping or accompaniment)
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Cook the rice in milk on the stove until cooked through, then transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool down.
- While the rice cooks, wash and slice half of the strawberries.
- Stir in the butter (broken in little pieces), the eggs, the vanilla, and the rum.
- Line a 9'' round cake pan with parchment paper (or butter and flour the pan if you prefer), and pour half of the rice batter in.
- Arrange the sliced strawberry in a single layer over the rice batter.
- Pour the second half of the batter over the strawberries, then slide the cake pan in the oven for one hour, or until cake is firm and top is slightly golden.
Note to ramekin lovers: This recipe works great in individual ramekins as a spoon dessert. Just check the ramekins after 35 minutes for doneness.