I made risotto a couple nights ago because it was chilly and rainy (oh wait, it’s still raining…April showers indeed). And also because I suddenly had the urge to make arancini di riso (fried risotto balls) which I first enjoyed at a fantastic Italian restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts called Alta Strada. And to do that, you’ve gotta have some leftover risotto.
I think arancini di riso are like the Italian version of hush puppies–irresistible donut-hole-like balls of fried goodness that you hold gingerly (because they’re piping hot out of the oil) but are just dying to sink your teeth into. And they’re definitely classier than the frozen sticks of mozzerella cheese that are fried and served with marinara sauce as an appetizer at many an Italian-American chain restaurant.
And despite my efforts at a “green,” sustainable lifestyle, I’d never thought of describing leftovers as “recycled” food (as Kitchen Confidante does), but I guess that’s essentially what this is. I kind of like that nomenclature actually because “leftovers” implies that you’re eating the same thing, just at a point in time later than the original act of creating the dish. “Recycled” food suggests that you are using said leftovers in a new way to create something new and exciting.
(But just so we’re clear, “reused” food is clearly not an appealing option, right? Regurgitated is not the way I would like to enjoy my leftovers, thank you very much).
And though Amelia of Z Tasty Life explains that serving arancini with marinara sauce is not the classic Italian way of serving it, I couldn’t resist varying from this nontradition faux pas to try out my first batch of homemade jam ever: tomato chili jam.
Wowee! Now, I don’t currently own a deep fryer. And I very rarely deep fry things. Mainly because it seems like such an ordeal to empty the contents of a bottle of oil into the pan and then somehow salvage part of it to re-use for a future deep-fry. Plus you have to battle the sputtering oil, dodging the stray droplets of hot liquid that inevitably land in places that make your stovetop very mad at you. But there’s no denying that deep frying is a unique way of cooking the produces a fantastically delicious food.
(And, despite what you might think, deep frying, done well, can actually be healthier – in terms of less fat content – than pan frying, because less oil remains on the food).
Arancini di riso is no exception. It’s yummy. So let’s get to it.
Arancini di Riso (Fried Risotto Balls; adapted from Kitchen Confidante)
Yum Factor: Alex – 6.7 , Jessalyn – 8 (Note: Alex was not supremely hungry when he ate his as he had just eaten dinner. Yes, I made these after I made our main course. Ordinarily these might make a lovely appetizer).
– about 2 cups leftover risotto
– 1 cup flour
– 1 egg, beaten
– 1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
– good melting cheese (such as Gruyere or mozzerella) cut into 1/2″ cubes (I used Parrano – a slightly sharp cow’s milk cheese)
1. Heat some frying oil (I used safflower) in a large pot on the stove over medium heat.
2. Set up your flour, egg, and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls as your breading station.
3. To assemble each risotto ball, spoon a small amount of risotto into your hand. Place a cube of cheese in the middle of the risotto and roll the whole mixture together so that the risotto envelops the cheese.
Continue to bread the risotto balls by rolling in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs.
4. Make sure the oil is hot enough to fry by dropping a small crumb of bread (according to some sources, you’re looking for about 375F). If it bubbles and then rises to the surface, you should be good to go. Add the risotto balls 3-4 at a time to the hot oil. Cook about 4 minutes, rotating periodically.
5. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle immediately with a bit of salt.
It’s got a perfect layer of fried crust on the outside, and the inside is ooey gooey cheesy risotto. How can it be anything but mildly addicting?
And perhaps what helped to elevate my arancini di riso to the next level was the beautiful tomato chili jam that I first read about in the New York Times‘s DIY Cooking Handbook and that I used to dip my risotto balls in. I was so enamoured with the recipes that I decided to purchase Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking and proceeded to make her jam which the New York Times describes as ketchup that has put on its “$300 Japanese cult brand jeans.”
Tomato Chili Jam (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking)
Yum Factor: Alex – 8.5, Jessalyn 8
– one 18-oz can tomatoes (I used whole peeled tomatoes)
– 2 red chiles, chopped
– 3 garlic cloves, smashed
– scant 1 tablespoon minced ginger
– 2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce (recipe called for fish sauce which I did not have so I used soy sauce)
– 1 1/4 cups sugar
– 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1. Put the juice from the tomato can, chiles, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce into a blender to puree. Pour the puree into a stainless steel saucepan. Set aside.
2. Put the tomatoes in the blender and pulse a few times to chop them up (if you’re using diced tomatoes, you can skip this step). Add to the saucepan.
3. Add the sugar and vinegar to the tomato mixture. Slowly bring the pot to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook at a gentle bubble 30-40 minutes, continuing to stir frequently.
4. When it has thickened (really, this is magical – it starts out looking like tomato soup; by the time half an hour has passed, it really starts to be thick and almost gelatinous), pour into sterilized glass jars. Store in the fridge, or process (e.g., in a hot water bath) and keep in cool, dry place.
We’ve used ours as we would for ketchup (on burgers, savory pancakes, hash browns, etc.), and, as you saw, as a dipping sauce for our arancini di riso, but you can also use it as a topping for grilled meats, spread on panini sandwiches, or as a spread for crackers with cheese and other toppings. This was my first time making jam, and really I was so pleased with the results. Not only was it simple to make, it was wonderful to eat. Alex has thoroughly enjoyed it and no longer wants to use the bottled ketchup we buy from the store. Yeah, it was that good.
So that’s a lot of recipes for one evening. I hope you’ll consider trying one or the other (or both). And the next time you’re at a nice Italian restaurant, you’ll know what arancini di riso is. Try it! You’re in for a real “recycled” treat.