Last weekend, Matthew’s mum threw us a fantastic engagement party. My mum came down to Toronto for the weekend, and we had a jam packed weekend filled with burgers, rum and cokes, Mani-pedis, a Jay’s game, a new (super cute) haircut, and ending in a super lovely party, where my mom finally got to meet some of Matthews aunts, uncles, cousins, and most importantly, his Nonna.
On the Saturday night though, I decided I wanted to cook a nice spring dinner for me, Matthew and my mum. So, after getting sunburned sitting in the Skydome for 4 hours, we came back to our apartment, cracked open a bottle of wine, and I whipped up a nice little meal for three: to start, some of the season’s first ontario strawberries, marinated with salt, pepper, a generous amount of basil, and some balsamic vinegar, served with a nice ball of fresh burrata, and some toasted sliced baguette. After we wolfed this all down, I took my time preparing a lovely spring vegetable risotto. Based off a recipe from Queen Ina Garten. I omitted the fennel she called for, added some diced artichoke hearts, pancetta, and found some of the prettiest in-season asparagus one could imagine. The recipe says this makes 4 “main course” sized servings, but I feel like it made closer to 10 servings. We had a boat-load leftover. Not a bad thing, I might add. This was served with some simple garlic butter shrimp, sautéed last minute before the risotto was plated. Dessert was a rhubarb clafouti. (Which I was not completely pleased with, so that recipe will need some tinkering). Then we watched the hockey game (no other option, when my mom is in the house).
Having such a generous amount of Risotto leftover gave me the opportunity later in the week to try my hand at something I’d never made before: Arancini. That is to say: breaded, fried, cheese-stuffed, balls of risotto. How could I pass up this opportunity!? I could not.
Generally in the kitchen, I try to avoid deep frying, and I try to avoid breading. Breaded items are delicious, but I can’t get over the fact that I have to dirty THREE BOWLS, one for the flour, one for the egg, and one for the breadcrumbs. It’s a messy process! I am, however, comforted by the fact that when I DO bread something, I’m usually not the one cleaning up afterwards (God bless Matthew). So really, I don’t know what’s stopping me. As for frying things, well I guess there are health reasons for that, but also, it makes me nervous! Especially on a gas range. I am always convinced I am one misstep away from setting myself aflame.
And yet, I threw caution to the wind for these little deep-fried balls of cheese and carbs.
The process was surprisingly easy, and I managed not to coat my entire kitchen in flour and breadcrumbs! So here is what you do:
You can make risotto expressly for this purpose, but I think it’s better when it’s been resting in the fridge. So keep this in mind. I had almost 2 cups of extra risotto to work with, so I mostly eye-balled everything. Some recipes call for an egg as a binder, but my leftover risotto seemed thick and gluey enough after sitting in the fridge that I didn’t find I needed it. I added about a half a cup each of grated pecorino cheese and breadcrumbs to the cold risotto, and blended it all well. Then you take about 2 tablespoons worth of it and roll it into a ball. Take a cube of cheese, about 1.5cm square (mozzarella seems like the obvious choice, but I’m sure you could do whatever good melty cheese is your favourite), and stuff it into your rice ball. Then roll it in your flour (seasoned with salt and pepper, of course), dunk it in an egg/milk mixture, and finally roll it into the breadcrumbs. I like to use the italian seasoned breadcrumbs, cause I am lazy. Lay your breaded arancini onto some parchment paper, one-by-one.
For the frying, I used peanut-oil because that is what I had on hand. I used a small pot, filled up only 2/3 of the way. I only fried two at a time, since I was using a small pot, but the nice thing about arancini is that the contents are mostly already cooked. It’s mostly about melting the cheese in the center and getting the exterior nice and brown and crispy. So while you could use a thermometre to get the optimal temperature, so long as you heat the oil to a point where the tip of a wooden spoon sizzles generously when you dip it into the pot, you should be good to go. I added two arancini into the pot at a time, and in 5 minutes or less, they were beautiful and brown and lovely looking. Rest them on some paper towel. You could also keep them warm on a baking rack in the oven at a low-temp, but keep an eye on them, because the cheese could burst out and onto the pan intead of into your belly.
I served these little beauties with a quick little broccoli salad inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s “Broccoli rubble”. Quick, roughly chopped broccoli, steamed with some frozen peas, and then tossed in a tiny bit of olive oil, lemon juice, grated pecorino, and a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a nice piece of mustardy oven-poached salmon to your plate, and you’re good to go for dinner!
Please note: Arancini may or may not also be very good right out of the fridge the next morning for breakfast, but I uh…wouldn’t know firsthand, of course. I’ve just HEARD.