Arancini

If you don’t know what arancini are, you do now.

Arancini

These fried stuffed rice balls, called arancini, or “little oranges,” in Italian (due to their shape), are found all over Italy, but are especially favored in the south, where oranges are a major crop. Found in restaurants and street stands alike, arancini are delicious either piping hot or at room temperature. At home, they make a satisfying first course. If you like, make them even smaller and pass them on appetizer trays. The best way to work with the sticky rice mixture is to use one hand for holding and shaping the rice, while keeping the other hand somewhat clean for handling the spoon.

Yield: About 24 balls, 6 servings

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

½ pound ground (minced) veal and/or pork

1 cup dry Marsala wine

½ cup shelled fresh English peas

1 cup meat stock

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and ground pepper

3 cups Baldo or Arborio rice

6 eggs

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons warm water

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup fine dried bread crumbs

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat the ¼ cup olive oil. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the meat, breaking it up, and cook until browned, 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Cook over high heat to reduce the liquid by half. Add the peas, stock, tomato paste, and parsley, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until thickened, 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large pot of salted boiling water over medium heat, cook the rice, stirring often, until tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center, 15-20 minutes depending on the variety. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool.

In a small bowl, beat 3 of the eggs. Place the cooled rice in another bowl and add the beaten eggs, the cheese, and the saffron mixture. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place a large spoonful of rice mixture in your palm, pack it lightly, and make an indention in the center. Place a tablespoonful of the meat mixture in the indentation. Cover the meat with another large spoonful of rice, sealing the meat in the center. Pack firmly into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Set aside.

In a small, deep bowl, beat the remaining 3 eggs. Put the flour and bread crumbs into separate small, deep bowls. Coat each rice ball with flour, then eggs, and the crumbs. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, pour oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep warm in a low (200˚F) oven while frying the remaining balls. Serve at once.

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