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Published February 19, 2013, 11:40 PM

The Lost Italian: Risotto creates creamy center for Arancini Balls

The Academy Awards take place this Sunday and, regardless of which movie or actor takes home the coveted Oscar statue, we know one thing for certain: Hollywood loves to celebrate itself.

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

The Academy Awards take place this Sunday and, regardless of which movie or actor takes home the coveted Oscar statue, we know one thing for certain: Hollywood loves to celebrate itself.

Following the ceremony (and weeks of fasting by some), the glitterati will descend upon the after-party scene to feast with one another on fancy finger foods prepared by famous celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck.

We may not get out to many movies together, but we do love to follow the food. A trend that we particularly enjoy is when a chef takes an ordinary, everyday food and gives it an update, or perhaps more appropriately, a facelift.

Food is personal, and by using a common, familiar food as inspiration, guests will often be more willing to try something new.

Using the ever-popular Fried Mozzarella appetizer as our inspiration, we are sharing Tony’s recipe for Sicilian Arancini Balls, a dish that received its name because of its resemblance to “little oranges,” or arancini in Italian.

Originally created by Sicilian peasants in the 10th century as a way to use leftover risotto, today these delicious little balls of rice are considered the golden jewel of Sicilian finger food. We first enjoyed this classic treat together years ago, while on a ferry boat crossing the Strait of Messina from Calabria to Sicily.

We frequently serve this appetizer at cocktail receptions, and our guests adore the surprising blend of textures: the golden, crunchy, fried coating of the shell gives way to the creamy goodness of the rice mixture inside.

We pair our Arancini Balls with a simple tomato sauce for dipping, which invokes the comparison to the afore-mentioned Fried Mozzarella. But what sets this dish apart from its ubiquitous cousin is its complexity of flavors.

The risotto filling is accented by Parmesan cheese, green peas and a little ground beef, which add to the tangy richness that fills your mouth with every bite. And, unlike fried mozzarella sticks, arancini balls are still delicious even after they’ve gone cold (although they are best when served fresh and hot).

There is no one way to serve arancini balls, and we encourage you to have fun with the preparation. Change up the recipe by using shrimp and other seafood instead of ground beef, or substitute fresh mozzarella for Parmesan cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, get creative with the dipping sauce by making a fresh pesto or flavored aioli. The only ingredient that cannot be replaced is the risotto.

The risotto can be made several days in advance but must be chilled for at least one to two hours so it is firm enough to form into little balls. Once the risotto is chilled, you can form the balls and refrigerate them for several hours before cooking.

You may not be on course to win an Oscar this year, but you will win rave reviews when you serve this classic Sicilian specialty at your next party.

Arancini di Sicilia

Serves: 12 to 16 Arancini balls

Ingredients

2 cups cold risotto – see recipe for Basic Risotto

½ cup green peas – frozen work great

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup cooked ground beef

Salt to taste

For dredging

Use shallow dishes for each ingredient – pie plates work great

2 to 3 cups Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs

2 to 3 cups flour

3 eggs, beaten vigorously with 2 to 3 tablespoons milk or water (this is the egg-wash)

For frying

Olive or vegetable oil – enough to fill pan to a half-inch of oil (extra-virgin is not necessary)

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Taste the mixture and season with salt if needed. Roll by hand into balls about one inch in diameter. Cover with plastic and refrigerate if not using immediately.

Next, dredge each ball in the flour, then the egg wash, and roll in the breadcrumbs, coating evenly. Cook immediately.

Fry the arancini balls in a deep fryer set at 325 degrees until golden brown. Or, you may use a large skillet and fry them on the stove. Heat the olive or vegetable oil over medium-high heat until hot, then place the balls evenly around the pan and fry until golden brown all over, rotating the sides to ensure each ball is evenly cooked.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two days until ready to serve. To reheat, place the balls on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes.

Basic Risotto

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil (extra-virgin not required)

1 cup minced yellow onion

2½ cups Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

6½ cups hot chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Seasoning to taste

Directions

Using a 3-4 quart sauce pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced onion and cook until soft, stirring often. Add the rice and stir for about three to five minutes.

Pour in the white wine and stir until evaporated, about two to three minutes.

Add one cup of chicken stock and stir constantly until the stock is absorbed. Continue to add the hot chicken stock, one cup at a time, and stir until absorbed before adding the next cup. This process will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

Once all the liquid has been absorbed, remove the pot from stove and add the butter and parmesan cheese. Stir the mixture until the butter and parmesan are melted into the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a baking dish and cool on the counter for approximately 10 minutes. Once cooled, cover and place in refrigerator for at least one to two hours before using.

Storage

Risotto can be made 3 to 4 days in advance and stored in refrigerator.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com.

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