Thursday, March 13, 2008

Risotto revisited or Arancini tonight anyone?




Waiting in Milano train station a few years back, for my connection to Tuscany for a job interview with the Centro d'Arte Verrocchio Art school for a position as their chef, I was strolling around looking for something to take the edge off the hunger I was feeling after a long train ride down from Austria. What to have? Panini everywhere, but I was craving something hot and pizza was an option, but not really of interest to me. Then I noticed that one kiosk seemed to be the place to get something to eat as there were a number of people crowded around it and everything seemed to be flying out the kiosk. There was a smattering of offerings, but the large orange orbs had my attention and seem to be garnering a great deal of attention from everyone else. I watched for a while fascinated by the food and the whole process as my Italian was nonexistent at that point. (not much better now, but at least I can understand what's going on and usually made myself understood). Anyway, I eventually plucked up my courage and was able to get to the front of the line and make my purchase. What did this fried delight have inside for me to discover? Well, I must say it was a surprise, as I was thinking sweet and savory was what I got. That was just fine, because it was delicious and filling. Saffron colored rice with bits of ham and peas scattered throughout was quite the revelation. I knew I would be making these sometime in the near future. The possibilities seemed endless. So I made my train, my interview and I got the job. Armed with a new idea already bubbling up of rice balls and other variations on a theme, I was starting to compile my mental list of what I needed to make for the summer. It was great addition to the repertoire and one that I still enjoy preparing and eating today. Btw, if you are an EU citizen, are an organized decent cook and have the desire to work in Italy for the summer, the art school is always on the look out for a chef and helpers for their season. Write Caro at the Centro here and see what is on offer.

I like to call this recipe idea, a "two for one", an "encore performance" or even a "recycled winner", take your pick.
If I am making risotto, I will often make a tad more than we would normally eat with the thought of making arancini later.
Fabrizio sometimes will surprise me and so then we move on to plan B.
Arancini are usually thought of as a Sicilian street food and rarely found in restaurants. The traditional Sicilian variety has a ground beef ragu center encased in saffron colored rice and a generous coating of bread crumbs all deep fried to a golden brown. The name Arancini, literally means little oranges, but any time I have seen them they are usually the size of full grown oranges. Sometimes you will find them in a cone shape as well. There are almost a many variations of these as there are provinces in Italy ranging from Neapolitan ones with peas, ham and mozzarella, seasonal mushroom to whatever bit of this or that you have that needs using up. There are lots of recipes out there to make all of the specific varieties from scratch, but I find that as long as I have some cold rice or risotto, then I use it as a canvas to see what taste sensation arises yet again out of the refrigerator.

If you need some basic risotto instructions have a look at an earlier recipe I published. Piedmontese risotto recipe with out the pumpkin.
Piemonte risotto is a great place to start as it is simplicity at it's finest and is often recommended for curing everything when you're feeling a bit under the weather and the doctor recommends eating a "white diet". This pretty much coincides with our version of eating a bland diet, but bland in Italy just doesn't really go over, whereas simple might be a better description. White rice (arborio or carnioroli) with onion, garlic, white wine, and Parmesan is a the classic recipe to let your imagination or your little bits of this or that are crying out to be noticed and used up, take over and lead the way.

" Encore Risotto Arancini " (or North South reunion)

  • 1 1/2 c rice ( 300 g )rice (arborio or carnaroli)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/3 c white wine
  • olive oil to saute’
  • 4 cups (1 liter or so) of vegetable or chicken stock
  • saffron optional a few threads to color
  • finish the risotto with a Tb of butter at the end and some grated Parmesan to season
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Consider what options you would like to add.
Other additions:
Recently, I used the cubed, peeled stems from artichokes, with cubes of Jerusalem artichokes, and that was delicious.
Prosciutto crudo cubes with peas or speck, which is smoked prosciutto crudo
Any type of mushrooms sauteed is always a hit for me
You get the idea.
Make your basic risotto, enjoy and leave leftovers to get cold before making into arancini. Risotto for lunch arancini for dinner or the whole batch for rice balls

  • 1/2 c (50 g) cubed cheese, soft melt-able ones like mozzarella, provolone I use a local Toma cheese
  • 1/2 c (50g) Parmesan, grated
  • 2 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tb. flour (rice flour or cornstarch if desired)
  • 1 c flour, in a small bowl for rolling the balls
  • 1 c (50g) bread crumbs, in a bowl for rolling
  • Optional: add cubed ham or a thick red meat sauce for a filling in the center
  • Oil to deep fry
I like using a thermometer for keeping an eye on the oil, so I don't burn anything. I make my balls more on the clementine rather than the traditional orange size, more antipasto size

Season your beaten eggs with salt and pepper and set aside to roll the balls in.
Stir the grated Parmesan and 1-2 Tb of flour into the rice and thoroughly combine.
Wet your hands and place a fair amount of the rice mixture in one palm of your hand. It should be about 3/4 of an inch/ 2 cm thick
Press an indentation in the center.
Place cubes of cheese or ham or both and close the rice around the filling to completely cover.
Roll a little to smooth surface and roll in you flour mixture to cover once.
Then roll in the egg mixture.
Then roll in the bread crumbs.
Fry till golden brown and drain on absorbent paper.
Serve hot or room temperature.
These are usually served alone, but could be served with a spicy marinara sauce as an antipasto.
I often serve them with a salad and call it lunch.
Fabrizio doesn't mind what size just as long as I call him for lunch.


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