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Rice pudding with poached prunes

Serves 4–6

Sometimes I dream about rice pudding. Properly made, it is sweet, gentle and always alluring to me (though it might be too much after a proper meal). It has the added advantage of taking very little effort. I like to use risotto rice – its small, plump grains absorb the flavours better than long-grain or short-grain rice. If you're not a fan of prunes, this also goes exceptionally well with a dollop of jam.

250g/8oz risotto rice
900ml/11/2 pints whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
Peel of 1 lemon
Small pinch of salt
150g/5oz plump, soft prunes
4 tbsp Pedro Ximénez sherry
5 tbsp boiling water
150g/5oz caster sugar
200ml/7fl oz double cream

Start by rinsing the rice well under cold running water, then tip it into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the milk, vanilla pod, lemon peel and salt and bring almost to a simmer over a medium heat. Now turn down the heat as low as possible (a heat-diffuser mat is useful here) and put the lid on, placing it slightly off centre, so it isn’t quite covering the pan. Cook, stirring every now and then, for 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked but still retains the slightest bite.

In the meantime, stone the prunes and place in a small bowl. Pour over the sherry, followed by the boiling water and leave to steep for 20 minutes. When the rice is cooked until al dente, stir in the sugar and cream and cook for a further 10 minutes. The pudding needs to be creamy with a soft consistency – you can test this by loading some on to a spoon and ensuring it drops off easily.

Transfer the rice pudding to a serving dish and allow to stand for five to 10 minutes. Serve warm, not piping hot, topped with the poached prunes.