Meet my newest food obsession, Arancini.
I first came upon Arancini quite a long time ago at a usually quite excellent Italian restaurant. I read the description on the appetizer menu: fried balls of risotto filled with bell pepper and Italian sausage!? Yup, count me in.
Unfortunately, the crust was so greasy it had gotten soggy. And to add insult to injury the the centers of the Arancini were uber dry and flavorless. The whole thing kind of felt like eating greasy mess of fried chalk. I refrained from gagging and vowed to never order the nasty things again.
Fastforward several years. I see Arancini on the menu of a completely different Italian joint. I have no recollection of my prior experience as I’ve managed to block the horror from my memory. I read the description and think to myself, fried balls of risotto filled with bell pepper and Italian sausage!? I’ve gotta try this. (Ok, I’m kind of predictable?)
The plate arrives at the table. Flash back to the greasy chalk balls years prior. I kick myself for not remembering. But, I’ve ordered them, so I gird my loins (is there a stranger phrase in the English language); and with great trepidation I gingerly take a bite. The crisp (and not at all greasy) crust crunches satisfyingly. My mouth fills with creamy, cheesy risotto, dotted with bits of spicy Italian sausages and sweet peppers. A perfect blend of textures, wonderful flavors. I’m an instant convert and I eat the rest of the appetizer all by myself refusing to share with anyone. (Ok, I’m not that mean, I shared. But I did end up ordering a second round.)
Naturally, being a food blogger the next day I promptly started working on a recipe for Arancini. Since I’ve had summer food on the brain lately I knew I wanted to come up with a filling that felt a little fresher summery then Italian sausage. I had recently come across a “risotto verde” in some magazine or another I wanted to try. The basic idea was that the risotto was made with a spinach pesto, asparagus, and peas. And while I wish I had remembered exactly which magazine it was in so that I could have actually gone back to look at the recipe, I ended up coming up with my own version that ended up being just the ticket for Arancini filling. And of course, I also researched the best ways to prevent the Arancini from turning out dry or overly greasy. (FYI I’ve decide the secret is lots of cheese and fry with your oil hot enough.) Plus I found a great method in a Serious Eats article to get that coating to stick really well without getting overly thick (flour slurry!).
Everything actually ended up coming together perfectly THE FIRST TIME AROUND (this is rare in the food blogger world, let me tell you). These Arancini have that essential creamy risotto filling, and melty cheese center. Lots of parmesan keeps them moist, mozzarella gives you the melty middle. They’re intensely flavored with spinach pesto and studded with fresh bites of slightly crisp asparagus. A thin perfectly crisp crust that gives you the perfect crunch completes the picture. No crimes against taste here. Arancini as it’s supposed to be.
PS I think these are super chi-chi when served as appetizer with a nice bubbly glass of Prosecco.
PPS The risotto used as the filling makes a fantastic dish all on it’s own. I highly recommend doubling the recipe, serving it for dinner one night, maybe with some grilled chicken, then using the rest to make the Arancini the next day.
Spinach Pesto and Asparagus Arancini– Yields about 16 Arancini. Recipe Adapted from Food Network Kitchen and Serious Eats. Filling inspired by I wish I could remember, does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? Magazine.
- a few splashed of olive oil
- 1/4 cup shelled walnuts
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 3 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium)
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons cup of half and half
- 1-2 tablespoons minced fresh basil, to taste
- 3-5 stalks of thin asparagus, washed, ends removed, and cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 and 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (if making your own, make sure they are ground fine)
- Vegetable oil, for frying
Make the Risotto:
- Heat a large saucepan over menu medium low heat. Add a splash of olive oil to the pan and the walnuts. Lightly toast the walnuts, stirring frequently to prevent any burning. Transfer the toasted walnuts to a food processor.
- Turn the heat up to medium high. When hot add the spinach (and another splash of oil if needed) to the saucepan. Lightly sauté the spinach. Drain off any liquid and transfer the cooked spinach to the food processor. Blend together the spinach and walnuts, adding a splash of oil as needed to form a paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and set near the stove.
- Add the rice to the saucepan (which should still be on medium high). Toast lightly, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Begin adding the hot broth to the rice on cup at a time. Stir well to prevent burning. Allow the rice to absorb all the broth before adding more. Repeat until all the broth has been absorbed.
- Add the spinach and nut paste, the parmesan cheese, half and half, minced basil and asparagus to the rice. Stir well. Cook for a minute allowing the additional liquid to absorb and the cheese to melt. Remove from the heat. Allow the risotto to cool fully before moving on to making the Arancini. Spreading the risotto out on the
Make the Arancini:
- Grab about two tablespoons of the cooled risotto and shape it into a disk. Press your thumb into the center to form a recess. Place a generous pinch of mozzarella into the recess. Grab more of the cooled risotto and place it over the mozzarella, so that the mozzarella is fully enclosed. Shape into a ball about 1 1/2-inch (add additional risotto if needed to make the ball the right size.) Set the ball on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat until the risotto is gone. You should end up with about 16 balls. Cover and refrigerate the balls while you prep the breading.
- Whisk together the 1/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water in a small bowl until the flour fully dissolves. Place the bread crumbs in a second bowl next to the flour and water mixture. Remove the rice balls from the fridge.
- Dip one rice ball at a time into the water flour mixture, rolling to coat it completely. Immediately place the rice ball in the bowl of bread crumbs rolling to coat completely. The ball should end up fully coated in bread crumbs, but the coating shouldn’t be overly thick. Set the rice ball back on the parchment paper and repeat with the remaining rice balls.
- In a deep pot heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil to 350*. (Do use a thermometer, as hot enough oil is the key to avoiding overly greasy Arancini!) Place a few of the Arancini in the oil, be sure not to add too many at a time and drop the temperature too much. Fry the balls, turning gently with tongs until golden brown on all sides. This should take about 4 minutes. Set already fried Arancini on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Repeat until all the balls have been fried.
- Serve hot right away. Cold Arancini can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and reheated in the oven at 350* without ruining the texture.