Do you guys remember the Friends episode where they imagine what it would have been like if Monica and Joey had gotten together in London instead of Monica and Chandler? There is a scene where a very heavy Joey sits at the kitchen table, and Monica said she made him his favorite foods and Joey says “fried stuff with cheese” in that way that Joey says everything. That is what goes through my head every time I think about my recent experiment, arancini. Or as my neighbor Mike calls them, rice balls.
Arancini are in fact, rice balls. In this case, risotto chilled, formed into a ball, coated in bread crumbs and fried in oil. The outside is nice and crispy, and the inside is creamy and melty and full of flavor, and for these, stuffed with a little mozzarella surprise. This is a great way to use leftover risotto if you have it. You can add most anything you want too. Prosciutto, peas, various cheeses, lemon, whatever your little heart desires.
I made a standard risotto – onions, wine, chicken stock – but at the end I added a cup of ricotta cheese and the zest of a lemon. I wanted these to be relatively light. Because, when you are making deep fried rice and cheese, lightness should be top on your list of requirements.
For a bit more in-depth discussion of how risotto is made, see here.
After the risotto was finished, I zested one whole lemon over the pot, and stirred that in along with a cup of ricotta cheese. I tasted for seasoning, and then poured the risotto into a baking pan and stuck it in the fridge to cool.
After the risotto cools and firms up a bit, the fun part begins. I had mozzarella in the fridge, so I cut it into small cubes (about a 1/2 inch or so.) I scooped a spoonful of risotto into my hands, smooshed it a little bit, and added a mozzarella cube or two to the middle.
I formed the risotto into a ball around the mozzarella cubes. They were a bit bigger than a golf ball.
Then I dredged the rice balls in flour, then egg, then panko crumbs to make a nice crust.
When they were all coated, I filled my cast iron pan about half way with canola oil and heated it over medium-medium high heat. When the oil was shimmering, I fried the rice balls in two batches.
When the arancini were a gorgeous golden brown on all sides, I removed them to a paper towel lined plate, sprinkled some kosher salt over the top, and did the next batch.
When the arancini are cooked, they are crispy on the outside, and dense and melty and rich, without being heavy somehow, on the inside. The melted mozzarella is a bonus.
I used about half the risotto the first night, heated up some red sauce I had in the freezer, and brought them over to neighbors Mike and Amanda to watch LOST. Mike, the resident rice ball expert, approved.
The second half of the rice balls, the next day, went into my tomato soup as a substitute for grilled cheese.
These were such a treat. And really not that difficult to make. And I actually reheated some leftover arancini a couple of times (definitely in the oven or toaster oven on a fairly high heat. Not in the microwave…crispy is still the goal.) In fact, I am not even going to include a recipe, because I imagine most of the time these will be done with some leftover risotto. That is the beauty of arancini. These would have been great with the leftover butternut squash risotto, and they would be great with leftover risotto made with peas or asparagus, and you could fill the middle with prosciutto or ham instead of cheese. Or prosciutto or ham and cheese. Be creative. I bet there is a way to do these with like a rice pudding or a sweet risotto too. I will have to ponder that one for awhile. Just make sure you coat them in flour first, then egg, then breadcrumbs (I like panko, but regular or Italian style would also be just fine.) Make sure the oil is hot so they don’t get greasy, and enjoy! If you don’t include risotto making time, these probably take 20 minutes tops. They are a delightful treat on cold day. You will want to make them again for sure.
You can’t argue with fried stuff with cheese.