Saffron Arancini

Ten years ago, I was in the seventh grade, sitting in my classroom, beginning a writing exercise with thirty of my peers, more concerned about my plans for the following weekend than the vocabulary words in front of me. I didn’t know what al-Qaeda was, and, although interested in government, I did not particularly care for foreign affairs. It’s amazing how much changes in ten years.

While a lot has changed, many things have stayed the same. For one thing, I always turn to my family and to my friends when grappling with crises or issues in my life, and those friends have expanded my perspective and my understanding in so many ways. For another, I continue to feel safe living in the District, knowing that countless men and women are putting in the time, and at times risking their lives to protect mine. The one thing that I can be grateful for is how much more aware 9/11 made me of what I have, and so, today, I say “Thank you.”

Now on to cooking: One thing about those aforementioned friends is that I love to show my appreciation for them by cooking. Perhaps it’s an Indian thing, but we often show our love by feeding people. So on Friday night, I had a bunch of my close Georgetown friends over for dinner.

Now, I love risotto; there are few things in this world that are as comforting as a bowl of warm rice, cooked slowly in broth. Which is why it should be of no surprise to you that one of my favorite foods in which to occasionally indulge is arancini. Arancini are little balls of risotto, lightly coated in breadcrumbs and fried until just golden. The name translates to “little oranges,” and these little bites actually look like golden oranges when piled on a plate.

I first had arancini when studying abroad in Italy. On my first day in the city, I opted to explore. I hadn’t eaten lunch that day and was starving, and by late afternoon I was scouting out places to grab a quick bite to eat. There was a small line outside a small, fairly nondescript shop in Rome, but I figured that the Romans must know what they are doing. I popped in and bought myself a few arancini. Delicious. I have no clue how the Romans stay so thin with these things around.

Happy eating and I wish all of you a safe and peaceful day.

Arancini

If you decide to make this with fresh risotto, make sure that you cool it well before forming your balls of rice. You have to chill the balls once made, so, although not difficult, this can be a long process. They taste best when piping hot and served with a little ragù or a simple tomato sauce. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3½ cups vegetable broth
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 32 small pieces of mozzarella (I cut 8 ciliegine into 4 pieces each)

To assemble: 

  • 1½ cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • Canola oil for frying

Directions:

  • First, make your risotto. Heat your broth and water in a small saucepan; continue to keep it warm on the stovetop.
  • In a large pot, heat your tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When warm, add in your shallots and cook until softened. Add in your rice and allow to cook until the ends are translucent–about 1 minute.
  • Add the white wine. Stir slowly until the rice absorbs all the wine. This takes a couple of minutes. If you prefer not to use wine, you can substitute with additional broth.
  • Add ½ cup of the warm broth. As with the wine, stir until the rice absorbs the broth.
  • Once the broth has been absorbed, add in another ½ cup. Continue to do so until the rice is cooked, the risotto is creamy, and most of the broth has been absorbed. The rice takes about twenty minutes to cook, and you may not need all of the broth.
  • Five minutes before your rice is done cooking, add in your saffron.
  • Once the rice is cooked, stir in the cheese, the tablespoon of butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

  • Remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely before continuing. This can take an hour or two.
  • Once cooled, you can begin assembling the arancini. It’s a good idea to keep a small bowl of cold water nearby. Dip your hands in the water. Take 1 tablespoon of the chilled risotto and flatten in the palm of your hand. Place a piece of mozzarella in the middle and wrap the rice around the cheese, shaping it into a ball.
  • Place on a baking sheet, lined with plastic wrap. Continue with the rest of the rice and cheese. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
  • 45 minutes before ready to serve, remove the risotto balls from the fridge. Dip each ball in flour, then roll in the eggs. Finally, coat in the breadcrumbs. Continue until all of the arancini are breaded.

  • Heat your canola oil or olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Heat enough oil to come up to about half the height of your risotto balls.
  • Fry the balls, about 2 minutes per side. Fry them in a few batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
  • Serve warm with tomato sauce or ragù.

Makes 32.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Incredibly simple”sauce.” Feel free to dress it up a bit with more vegetables or different herbs. It’s a bit chunky, but I think that adds to its rustic charm.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 pints grape or mini heirloom tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ tablespoons dry oregano
  • Pinch of dried sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

  • In a large pot over medium heat, heat your oil. Add in your onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add in the tomatoes and stir. After five minutes, add your lemon juice. Allow to cook until the tomatoes have broken down, stirring occasionally. Add in your sugar, using more or less based on the flavor of your tomatoes.
  • Add in your herbs, along with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve warm with pasta or use as a “bed” for the arancini.

Makes 3 cups.

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