I didn’t think I could love risotto more than I already did. But take leftover risotto, roll it into rice balls, stuff them with cheese, bread and deep fry and you’ve got an entirely new beast. Called arancini (which means little oranges in Italian), this Sicilian specialty is a vegetarian bar snack worth trying. They’re crispy on the outside with a melty, gooey surprise in the middle. And they’re way easier to make than you may think. They require cold risotto so it’s the perfect use for leftovers (and in fact I developed this recipe for an article on leftovers for the next issue of TreeFree Food).I like to make arancini with a basic risotto, like Risotto Milanese (minus the saffron for an even simpler base), but you can use your favorite risotto recipe or whatever you have leftover. I’ll have to try it with my carrot risotto or saffron and butternut squash risotto, and I bet bright red arancini made with beet and barley risotto would be a show stopper. You can also play around with the stuffing by filling the rice balls with your favorite cheese. Something slightly firm with a low melting point works best; try subbing smoked mozzarella or taleggio for a slightly different flavor profile.
The key to making perfect arancini, besides using cold risotto, which is firmer is to deep fry them in plenty of hot oil. Now is not the time to get lazy or health conscious. I like to use a small pot so it’s easy to fill it with enough oil to cover the arancini, then work in batches. Make sure the oil is hot enough by putting the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil; if it bubbles around the handle then it’s ready (I learned that tip from Orly of Cook in Israel). Or, a more dangerous tactic is to splash a drop of water into the oil to see if it sizzles.
- 3 cups cold, leftover risotto
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan
- 3 oz (85 g) mozzarella, cubed
- ¾ cup breadcrumbs
- Frying oil
- Put the risotto, egg, and Parmesan in a large bowl and mix to combine.
- Scoop up a small handful of the cold risotto and form into a ball. Push a cube of mozzarella into the center, and smooth the risotto over so it is fully covered. Roll around in your hands to make sure the ball is even. Repeat with remaining risotto and mozzarella (if the risotto starts to stick to your hands so much that you can’t form a ball, put the risotto in the fridge for a few minutes and wash your hands, then start again).
- Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl.
- Roll each risotto ball in the breadcrumbs so they are evenly coated. Transfer to a plate or baking tray. Refrigerate while you heat the oil.
- Pour frying oil into a small pot so it comes up 4 inches or so. Heat over medium-high heat until very hot (you can test it by putting a wooden spoon in the oil to see if it bubbles).
- Working in batches, carefully lower one risotto ball at a time into the hot oil. Fry, turning around every so often, until evenly golden brown all around. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or tray and continue with the remaining risotto balls.Serve immediately with marinara sauce, if you like, or keep warm in the oven.
- Alternately, you can let the arancini cool then arrange in an even layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer. When ready to serve, bake directly from the freezer in a preheated oven for 10 minutes or so - they're good as fresh!
To make gluten free, use gf breadcrumbs.
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