Love cheesesticks? Arancini are right up your alley
Thanks to the Saxon invasion of England in 1066, we now eat beef and pork rather than cow and pig. What better proof is needed that all food tastes better with a foreign name?
Even in the 21st century, French and Italian names lend certain cachet to any dish. No one is going to get excited about fried rice balls, but call them arancini (arr-an-CHEE-nee) and they fly off the menu.
Arancini are a popular snack food in Sicily. The name means “little orange” because of their appearance. Although eaten year-round, they are especially popular on Dec. 13, the Feast of St. Lucia.
During a wheat famine in the 17th century, the Sicilian people prayed to St. Lucia. She came to their aid by directing a shipment of grain to the harbor. In remembrance of the dire times of the past, the people “fast” by abstaining from bread and pasta. Instead, they feast on arancini.
Arancini are made with arborio rice cooked as if for risotto. The rice is then cooled completely and formed into balls with a filling inside. The rice balls can have various fillings, but I like to use mozzarella. Crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, arancini can be thought of as the adult version of mozzarella sticks.
Arancini can be served as-is, but for a bit of pizzazz, I like to serve them with romesco sauce for dipping.
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
21/2 cups stock or water, heated and kept warm
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup flour
2 large eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Prepare the rice in the following manner. Heat the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the onions and cook until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and saute for a few minutes. Ladle in 1 cup warm stock, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed. Ladle in another cup of stock and continue to cook, stirring yet again, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the final 1/2 cup stock and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed. The rice should be well cooked but still have a bit of a bite. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Spread the rice on a tray to cool completely.
To make the croquettes, using your hands, scoop up about 1/4 cup of the rice mixture and form into a patty. With your thumb, make a depression in the center and place a cube of mozzarella. Fold the rice over the cheese and roll into a ball. Continue until you have formed about 12 croquettes. When all the balls have been formed, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. This will make the breading step easier.
To bread, roll the balls first in flour, then in egg and finally in the panko. Pour the oil into a medium-size heavy pot to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over a medium-high flame until a thermometer registers 350 degrees. Carefully lower half of the rice balls into the oil with a slotted spoon and fry until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining rice balls. Serve warm with sauce alongside.
1 large roasted red bell pepper from a jar (or you can roast and peel your own)
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup tomato purée
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place first 8 ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until very finely chopped. With motor running, slowly add the oil and process until smooth.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at email@example.com.