My husband and I recently celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. We went to Italy on our honeymoon, so I decided to make something from Italy for this dish in honor of our amazing trip. (The first of many from Italy, no doubt. To try to only pick one dish from a such a culinary Eden as Italy would be an impossible task.)
I had heard of arancini before (thanks Giada) but never gave it too much thought. We found a small café near our hotel on Piazza San Marco in Venice (I’m kicking myself for not remembering the name). It was our last night there and we had an early morning flight, so we went in and grabbed a few things to take back to our hotel room to eat. One of them was arancini and it was delicious.
Arancini are basically stuffed rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Although we had our arancini in Venice, the dish is said to have originated in Sicily. The name is from their shape and color, which is a bit like an orange (arancina means “little orange” in Italian).
The arancini we ate had a tomato sauce mixed in with the rice, which is pretty typical. When I make the arancini, I tend to leave out the tomato sauce and instead put it on the side for dipping. There are lots of ways to make this dish. You can really put whatever you like it in, but here is mine.
Start with Risotto
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup leeks, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
In a saute pan, melt the butter and add the leeks and garlic, sauteeing until soft and fragrant. Add the salt and oregano. Finally, add the rice and mix it around, coating it with the leeks and butter, letting it get all toasty.
Slowly, ½ a cup at a time, add the chicken stock. Stirring frequently, over medium heat. Don’t add the next portion until the rice has soaked up the liquid, usually only takes a couple minutes. Make sure the temperature is not too hot and you aren’t adding the stock too quickly. The low and slow method is best here, because you want your rice soft and creamy. Cooking it this way, the rice’s starches are released, leaving you with a creamy risotto.
After adding the stock ½ a cup at a time for the first 2 cups, I added the last cup altogether and let it simmer until done, another about 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring frequently, so it doesn’t cook to the bottom of the pan.
Once all the liquid has been absorbed, add the parmesan cheese and stir. Transfer the risotto to a bowl and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to tighten up. (SIDE NOTE: If you just wanted risotto, you can stop here. It makes a yummy side dish!)
After the risotto has stiffened up a bit, you can begin to make the arancini.
Set up a dredging station: 1 bowl with 2 cups flour, 1 bowl with 2 beaten eggs, 1 bowl with 2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko, but regular is fine)
Form the rice into balls. I just eye-balled it to the size I wanted, but you could use an ice cream scoop. Stuff the middle with a small chunk of mozzarella cheese (my secret? Just cut up string cheese!), and roll the rice around the cheese. Dip the rice ball in the flour, then the egg, then coat with bread crumbs.
Put the balls on a plate until done.
In a deep skillet or pan, add enough vegetable oil to fry the balls. How much will depend on how big you make them, but you want the oil to come up at least half way (once one side is done, you can roll them over). The oil is ready when it starts shimmering and bubbling.
Fry the balls in batches. Don’t over crowd the pan. It usually only take just a couple minutes per side, but it goes fast, so don’t walk away. Keep an eye on them and when they turn a beautiful golden brown, take ‘em out!
Serve with a simple green salad and tomato sauce for dipping!
Tomato sauce (version 1)
I’m going to call this “version 1) because I will more than likely make another version of tomato sauce for another post. It’s just one of those things I don’t have just one of in my repertoire. This is just a basic version of the one I usually make. Not super saucy, per se, but good for a nice burst of tomato flavor for dipping and adding to simple pasta dish.
1 28oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
½ yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced (more or less depending on your affinity for garlic)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, stirring frequently. Add the oregano and basil. You can add a little salt and pepper here, but not too much. Wait until the end, that way you can taste it and see if it needs more salt or really any flavor you want. You can always add seasoning, but you can’t take it away.
Add the tomatoes and let simmer for at least 20 minutes. You can leave it chunky like this if you want, but I don’t like it this way, so I used my emersion blender. If you don’t have an emersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor. (I do suggest getting one, though. They are very useful if you like to make soups and sauces.)