This Italian Rice Pie or Torta di Riso, as the locals call it, embraces spring flavours and one of my favourite things in the entire world, rice pudding.
This week in country Tuscany has been extremely frustrating. Every day has started sunny and beautiful, so I wake up, get excited and throw on my favourite spring dress and a pair of sandals, then by mid afternoon it starts to pour. I mean pour. Thunderstorms and everything and I go to meetings and lessons looking absolutely ridiculous in my super strappy sandals without an umbrella – I left not one, but two, at the restaurant we went to on Saturday night, which is just fantastic. Obviously, I could have checked the weather, but I just can’t stop hoping that spring has arrived.
That said, this morning I was not fooled by all that tempting sun. I wore boots.
I’ve made a lot of tarts recently, I know, but when I went to the market this weekend, I was greeted by the last of the season’s prettiest tangerines. Tangerines taste like sweet oranges, but are the size and shape of a mandarin. I originally wanted to make an entire pie out of them, but it turned out terrible, but so I reworked them into this luscious honey syrup, which is sweet and tart and perfect for my Italian rice pie.
Torta di riso is a classic Italian dessert recipe. They don’t have a lot of them, but this particularly popular at spring time around Easter and Mother’s Day… hint hint.
It’s basically rice pudding in a tart case, but it’s also so much more delicious than the rice pudding you’ve eaten in the past.
For starter’s we’re using honey as a sweetener. Now some people think honey is healthier than plain sugar, but I watched a documentary, which suggested they are just as bad each other, so now I can’t kid myself into thinking I’m being super healthy by drowning my pancakes in honey instead of lemon and sugar. That said, honey has a beautiful caramel and floral flavour that is totally spring and works well with the rice.
Here in Tuscany we have so many different types of honey, many of which are produced locally. One of my favourites for this recipe is coriander honey, which has a savoury note and a deep chestnut flavour that works well with the tangerines. My mother in law also bought me back a jar of orange honey, which is divine, but also impossible to get out of the jar. I actually used lavender honey in this recipe because I have a million jars that were gifted to me by some French friends, but you can use whatever you have on hand. If you want to be very authentic, try to find Millefiore honey or Wild Flower honey, which is the Italian favourite.
The other flavours in my Italian rice pie are sultanas and a hint of tangerine zest. Sultanas always divide people. I love them and put them in every dessert I can think of, but Giulio hates them and always picks them out.
It’s up to you. You could substitute the sultanas for chocolate chips if you like the combination of chocolate and orange. I don’t, but my mum loves it, which, by the way, is perfect since this is a great recipe for all those Mother’s Day brunches you have planned. Especially since you can bake the tart shells and rice pudding separately the day before and then assemble just before serving.
An important note to bear in mind when making your Italian rice pie. Don’t overcook the rice. We’re using Alborio rice, which cooks in less time. I tried this recipe with other types of long grain rice and it was a nightmare. It took forever to cook and turned into a lumpy mess. Alborio is perfect because it keeps its crunch right at the centre and the grains don’t all clump together, which, let’s be honest, is one of the drawbacks of rice pudding. No one wants to feel like they’re eating mushy baby food.
You can flavour your Italian rice pie with whatever spices you love. I’ve kept it simple, but a few cloves or a touch of cinnamon or pumpkin spice would pair beautifully with the tangerines and micro mint leaves… because sometimes we have to channel our inner dessert chef!
Traditionally a torta di riso is served room temperature, not cold or hot. You can heat up the rice pudding before you spoon it into the shells, but don’t serve it straight out of the refrigerator because the texture will be all wrong.
You can also do as the Italians do and bake this as one big tart to slice and serve with a drizzle of tangerine syrup and a few perfectly sweet slices of fruit. Mother’s Day never looked so Mediterranean!
Italian Rice Pie Recipe (Torta di Riso) with Tangerine Syrup
for the sweet shortcrust pastry:
2 cups plain flour
145g cold butter, cubed
3 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
for the filling:
150g short-grain rice
100ml pouring cream
Finely grated rind of ½ tangerine (or mandarin)
micro mint leaves, to serve
For the tangerines in honey:
3 tangerines or mandarins, segmented, pith removed
To make the sweet shortcrust pastry, place the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor and whiz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the milk and continue mixing until the mixture forms a rough ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface into a rough 1⁄2cm thick rectangle. Line 6 x one-cup pastry cases, then blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the pastry cases are golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Bring rice and enough cold water to cover to the boil in a saucepan over high heat. Drain, return to pan with milk, cream, honey and lemon rind, and cook covered, stirring occasionally over low heat until rice is tender (30-40 minutes). Set aside to cool completely.
Place the honey in a saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer until it begins to colour (1-2 minutes). Add 400ml water and the tangerine segments and poach over medium heat until just tender (4 minutes).Cool completely.
To assemble, fill the tart cases with the rice custard and top with the poached tangerines and a little of the honey sauce. Serves 6.