One day last week, I was exchanging emails with a colleague and the conversation turned to Christmas dinner. I explained I was making meatballs and gravy; she explained she was making Arancini.
I just might have to make this Arancini.
But first I had to look it up.
Rice balls date back to when the Arabs inhabited Sicily. As you know, growing rice involves water, lots of water, and the Arabs built sophisticated irrigation systems to make growing rice possible. Back then, rice balls were made using saffron and that wonderful spice adds a radiant glow to any dish. You can read about saffron in my Paella post. The Italians, of course, perfected the little orbs and introduced filings….meat, mushrooms, cheese, nuts, eggplant…I suppose the possibilities are endless.
And don’t limit your rice-ball frying experience to merely savory options. Try a sweet option made with cream and cinnamon and stuffed with raisins and other fruit. But, on Christmas, Brother and I stuck to a more traditional recipe and made ours with peas, parmesan and mozzarella (that oozed out on queue during eating). We rolled, coated and fried our way straight to a lovely Christmas memory. After tasting one that fell apart, Brother wanted to know what everyone else was eating for dinner….I reminded him there were meatballs and gravy and he quickly changed his tune.
Making Arancini is a perfect way to use leftover risotto…not that there’s any leftover risotto in my house. Ever. It's so worth the time and effort it takes to make….simply heavenly. There were three leftover that Younger Daughter and I happily consumed for lunch on Wren Day. Himself told me about Wren Day.
Adapted from: epicurious.com
2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Olive oil, about 4 swirls
1 small onion or large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 cup risotto rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock, warmed
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mozzarella cheese cut into cubes (for as many balls are you are making)
Flavorless oil for frying, like canola
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs or regular breadcrumbs
Heat a heavy-based, high-sided frying pan or saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes until soft but not colored. Add the rice and stir vigorously around the pan for a couple of minutes until the grains start to turn slightly translucent. Deglaze the pan by pouring in a bit of wine and scraping up the bits at the bottom. Add a cup of the hot stock mixture to the rice and stir over medium heat until absorbed, then add another cup. Repeat until all the stock is used, then add the cup of white wine and the peas. Cook until the rice is tender but still al dente, stirring regularly to create a creamy risotto, about 20 minutes.
Let the risotto to cool; I put my prepared risotto in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare your dipping stations by filling three separate shallow bowls with the beaten eggs, the flour (seasoned with a pinch of salt and pepper), and the breadcrumbs.
Once the risotto is cool enough to handle and has stiffened a bit, roll it into balls the size of golf balls.
Push a piece of mozzarella into the middle of each ball, making sure that the cheese is completely enclosed. Leave the balls to set in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
To coat the risotto balls, dip a ball into the flour, shake off any excess, then dip into the egg, allowing any excess to drip off. Finish by coating completely in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining balls.
Fill a large saucepan one-third full of flavorless oil; I used canola. You know that the oil is hot enough when you insert the handle end of a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles appear around the wood (this is a nifty little trick Sister taught me).
Deep-fry the balls in batches for 2-3 minutes until golden brown all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately while the cheese is still melty.
This recipe doubles nicely.