It has been a beautiful few days here and spring has finally arrived. My wisteria just bloomed yesterday, sending wafts of beautiful spring freshness into the air. It is almost time to put the tomatoes in the garden – all very exciting. A few nights ago, I made a simple lemony risotto for dinner and coincidentally had an email from a reader asking if I had a favorite recipe for arancini, a treat found throughout Sicily. These little delicacies of rice stuffed with various yummies are sold by street vendors all over the island. On the western side of the island, they appear to be round in shape whereas on the eastern side of the island, they are shaped more like little ovals (which according to the Academia Barilla are meant to resemble Mount Etna). Their delicious fillings range from meat to cheese to vegetables. Academia Barilla also notes that many moons ago, the king and his court were able to conserve rice by breading then frying the arancini, allying them to bring the balls with them on long trips or when hunting.
My favorite are those stuffed with cheese and are a delightful snack when warm as the creamy cheesy center simply melts on your tongue. Ahhh, wonderful memories of sunny days at ‘la spiaggia‘, sunbathing-Italian style, happily munching on warm arancini and sipping a crisp glass of white wine when taking a break from the hot Sicilian sun. I realized after receiving the email from my new friend in Florida that I had never actually made arancini at home. Given that I had both leftover risotto and fresh ricotta from the Italian market in the refrigerator, it was time to give them a try. They were great fun to make (although a bit messy) but once I got the size under control (I made the first few about the size of the lava rocks on Mount Etna) and realized they were much easier to form if my fingers were moist, it was a snap. The creamy ricotta and spinach filling was a delicious gooey center which contrasted nicely with the crunch of the coating. I had way too many to finish last night so I wanted to see what shape they would be in after an evening in the refrigerator. I am happy to report that after a quick 10 minute crisp in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven that they were as good (and maybe a tad better) than the evening before. I luckily had a crew of landscapers here today so was able to give them their first ‘arancini break’. These are a great use for leftover risotto. I included the recipe for lemon risotto below but you can use any type. These will be on the next dinner party list for sure. Bon appetito!
Lemon Arancini with Ricotta and Spinach
DO-AHEAD TIP: The uncooked and breaded arancini can be refrigerated overnight. Bring them to room temperature before frying. You can also put the fried arancini in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the oven the next day on about 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes.
For the risotto:
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus oil for frying
2 large shallots, minced
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Zest and juice from 1/2 of a lemon
4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the filling:
Approximately 1 pound of spinach
2/3 cup ricotta, fresh and homemade if possible
All-purpose flour for dredging
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup of fine unseasoned bread crumbs
1 small saucepan to hold the stock for the risotto, 1 medium saucepan to make the risotto, 1 large pan for frying
1. Make the risotto: Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep warm.
2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add in the rice and stir to coat. Add in the wine and simmer until mostly evaporated, about 3 minutes.
3. Add about 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed. Continue adding the broth about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Be sure to allow each addition of broth to almost completely absorb prior to adding more. Continue cooking until rice is tender yet ‘al dente’ and creamy, about 15 or 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of parmigiano. Add the lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool completely to room temperature.
4. Make the filling. Blanch the spinach in a bit of water over medium heat. Drain and when cool enough to handle, squeeze to remove any moisture. Chop. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, 2 tablespoons parmigiano, and the spinach. Mix well.
5. Now for the fun part – making the risotto balls! Keep a small bowl of cool water nearby. Moisten your palm and your fingers. Place about 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture in your palm. Make a little indentation and fill it with a bit of the ricotta mixture. Fold the rice up and over the ricotta mixture. You may need to add a bit more rice to cover completely. Form a little ball. Repeat until all the rice is used. (A few notes – I found that the first few I formed were too large. Smaller is better. And the bowl of water really helped keep the rice from sticking all over my hand. I also had a bit extra ricotta filling which I am saving to put on a bit of pasta tomorrow.)
6. Once all the balls are shaped, put the flour, egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate shallow bowls. In a medium saucepan, heat about 2 inches of olive oil to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a cake rake over a large baking sheet. Dredge each ball in the flour. Dip in the egg and then coat with the bread crumbs. Be gentle – you want little round balls if possible. (Don’t worry you will get the hang of it quickly!)
7. Deep fry the arancini until golden brown, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the arancini to the rack. Serve the arancini hot or warm. Buon appetito!