Arancini. "Little oranges". Only these guys aren't quite so healthy as a piece of citrus. They are actually balls of risotto, stuffed with molten cheese, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. What. Is. Not. To. Like?
Apparently in Sicily, where they originate, they can be filled with all sorts of things ranging from a slow-cooked ragout, to ham or even mushrooms. Traditionally, they are served with a tomato sauce for dipping, but I opted for a simple drizzle of good balsamico this time.
Although arancini are traditionally street food, you could serve them as a passed appetizer at a party, or a fairly filling first course. And although they are a bit labor intensive, you can prepare everything the day before so all you have to do at showtime is the actual rolling in breadcrumbs and frying.
Please don't use commercial "Italian" breadcrumbs for this (or anything else). It is well worth the minimal effort to run some day-old bread through the food processor. Experts differ on whether you need to remove the crust. Marcella Hazan says yes, Mario Batali no. I'm in the Batali camp, because it saves time and produces less waste. Either way, you can freeze any leftover breadcrumbs (that haven't touched raw egg) and use them to top gratins, casseroles, pasta, etc.
Arancini di Riso
Makes about 12 depending on size
Vegetarian; not vegan; could be gluten-free if you use gluten-free breadcrumbs and broth
- 4 cups clear vegetable broth (not some soupy thing; I like Seitenbacher broth powder for this kind of thing)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely diced onion
- 1 1/4 cups arborio or other risotto rice (must be a risotto rice!!)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 egg
- about 4 ounces of scamorza, smoked mozzarella or other flavorful, meltable Italian cheese, cut into cubes a little bigger than 1/2" on a side
- salt to taste
- oil for deep frying
- 1 1/2 cups finely ground fresh breadcrumbs (whiz day-old non moldy bread in food processor; if not dry enough, toast lightly first)
- 2 eggs beaten with 1/4 teaspoon salt
- flaky sea salt
- tomato sauce or balsamico for dipping
- Bring the broth to a simmer.
- Heat a medium saucepan over a medium-high flame. Saute the onion in the olive oil for 1 minute until it softens but doesn't brown. Add the rice and saute for another minute, until it turns translucent. Add the wine and cook for 30 seconds.
- Begin to add the broth. Initially, add enough to cover the rice. Reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally – you don't need to do it as much as you would if you were serving this as regular risotto. Add broth occasionally, as you see it dip below the level of the rice. You probably won't need all of it. Stop when the rice is tender to bite but still has a hint of toothsomeness left – the equivalent of al dente for pasta. Stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and add salt if needed.
- Allow the rice to cool to room temperature (you can spread it out if you need that to happen faster), then stir in one egg thoroughly.
- With dampened hands, form balls of the rice. Something around golfball size is good. Poke a hole and insert a cube of cheese, then re-form the rice around the cheese so it is in he center. If you like, you can now store these pre-formed balls in a single layer in the refrigerator for a day. Wrap them well so they don't dry out.
- When you are ready to cook them off, heat your oil for deep frying to about 360 F. Dip each ball first in the beaten eggs, then roll them around in the breadcrumbs. (Hint: don't put all the breadcrumbs in the bowl at once – then if you have some left they will be uncontaminated to save for later). Fry the balls in small batches so the oil doesn't cool down too much, or they will be greasy. Cook, turning occasionally, until deep brown.
- Remove the balls to plates covered in paper towels. Season with flaky sea salt. Allow them to cool a bit before serving and warn your guests, so they don't burn their mouths! These guys really hold the heat, especially the molten cheese. Serve with the sauce of your choice. Live on as a legend.