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Messisbugo's Turkish Rice

Messisbugo, Cristoforo: Banchetti composizioni di vivande e apparecchio generale (Lucio Spineda, Venice, 1610)

I decided to try this recipe out as I was wanting to make orecchine1 for a forthcoming collation. These appear on about half of Scappi's collazione2 menus - and for the other half there are some other sort of similar pastry. They're always filled: usually with a mixture of white dish, or sometimes with other things - like a mixture of wafers, or, as you may have guessed, Turkish rice.

I was keen to choose a filling that would definitely be more solid than liquid, since it's supposed to fill what is a fairly shallow pastry. Given that some of the recipes for white dish I've tried have been rather more liquid-y, when I stumbled upon this recipe again by accident I realised I'd found a winner. Rice has a great capacity for absorbing liquid, so I thought that by the time it had been cooked and then reheated, sloppiness wouldn't be an issue.

This is another recipe designed to produce quite a large amount of food. Being in the position of only wanting to feed 15 people some small pastries with a dollop of this as the filling, I really didn't want to start out with one and a half pounds of rice. So I went with a cup full. I don't know how big a measure the milk is, but remembering that rice normally cooks in a ratio of about three times the amount of liquid to water, I put in three cups of milk to begin with. I used a full cream milk to give a creamy texture. I also added 1/3 of a cup of brown sugar, which was in proportion to the volume of rice that I was using.

Having learnt my lesson thoroughly now about constantly stirring mixtures involving milk and sugar and heat3, I patiently stood at the stove top, kept the pan just hot enough to maintain a boil, and stirred constantly.

It seemed like the rice refused to cook for ages, then suddenly soaked up all the milk all at once. However, it had only been about 15 minutes at this point, so I tested it to check whether it was done or not, and the grains were still a little hard. So, I added an extra 2/3 of a cup of milk, brought it back up to a boil, and carried on stirring. The rice was cooked by the time this extra milk had been absorbed, however, having made rice pudding before, I kept it cooking over a very low heat for a bit longer to let it really start to disintegrate. Then I added a splash (about a tablespoonful) of rose water, and 30g of butter (since I'd made about 1/6th of the volume of the original recipe), and stirred this in as well until it had all been absorbed.

Once cool, it did in fact congeal quite nicely and should function well as a pie filling. Having tasted it, I'm not especially enamoured of it - the rose water makes it taste extra-sweet, but it's missing all the better bits of a rice pudding (i.e. fruit and nuts). I think a bit of salt might give it more flavour, although it is clearly supposed to be a fairly bland, light dish - which this is.

1. This translates as "ears", "pendants", or "nightcaps" according to Florio, but in this instance they're actually small pastries.

2. A "collation". I translate it thusly because this makes sense to me - but it doesn't to everyone. Basically, it's a light, slightly less formal meal (they might, for example, dispense with some or all of the carvers) composed entirely of cold foods. In Summer, these are often outdoors at pleasant places such as vineyards. In Winter they are often held in the evening following on from a Commedia or some such. Expect more writing from me on this in the future.

3. Unfortunately this involved wasting four litres of goat's milk in the process. Ouch.