I get a kick out of dishes that manage to both impress folks and meet their requirement for comfort-food status. Let’s face it, gooey mac and cheese or creamy mounds of mashed potatoes are not loved for their looks. In fact, the massive piles of goodness only make the foodie centerfolds because they bring back atavistic longing of the food of our childhood. Which is exactly what comfort food does – it nourishes us and brings us to a place just like home. But if you really think about the taste profile of comfort food in an of itself, it’s typically simple in nature, and oftentimes mild in flavor. Color-wise, it’s oftentimes blah as well – fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and meat loaf all hang out in the beige to brown arena. Now, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, or even that it’s the rule across the board – I just think it’s worth noting that the requirements of comfort food need only be that it’s tasty for the soul and consumable in huge quantities. So, what if we celebrated the kinds of comfort food that not only felt good to eat, but also looked just as lovely.
Arancini are gorgeous – the name itself means “little orange” in Italian and is an homage to the glorious golden color of these tangerine-sized delights as they are removed from the fryer. Crunchy and light on the outside, and creamy and luxe in the inside, these little babies are comfort food at its best. Probably my favorite part about this recipe is that you start with leftovers – the base of the arancini is risotto, left to coagulate and thicken to a point that you can form it into mini balls. For those of you that make risotto from scratch, you know that it’s not so good as leftovers – the distinct grains of arborio rice turn into a porridge of sorts that’s a far cry from the glory that is served fresh out of the pot. So what better way to resurrect it than to wrap it around bits of mozzarella, bread them and fry until lovely. I say ye.
In a lot of these recipes that call for frying “until golden” I don’t ever mention the need for a thermometer – it’s silly given that a) I always use one and b) you should too. A lot of the fear of frying comes from not getting the temperature just right – if the oil’s too hot, your food will burn on the outside before it cooks in the inside; cook too low and your food will come out greasy. Remove the guessing game from the equation – buy a frying/candy thermometer and be precise. You really don’t have an excuse as they are cheap and readily available (mine came from Bed, Bath and Beyond for like $7). Besides, you are all about kitchen perfection. I know this for a fact.
I think that what sends this comfort food over the top is the brightness of presentation – beige is lightened up by bright, zesty marinara and basil. It’s like a little Italian flag in every bite – a whole lot sexier than a mess of elbow macaroni. Feel free to experiement with fillings and sauces – go decadent and dip them in a fontina funduta, or zesty with a nice basil pesto. Stir spinach, peas or mushrooms into the risotto. One of my favorite places in the whole wide world, La Fontanella, serves their supplíwith a savory meat ragu – they come as an appetizer but are just so filling, you could make a meal of them. In the proverbial words of Humpty, “Dowhatchulike” and I am sure that you will be relishing in comfort-food majesty.
Arancini (Sicilian Fried Rice Balls or Supplí)
3 c. of leftover risotto
2 oz. of mozzarella, cut into 16 cubes
1/4 c. of flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tbs. of water
1/4 c. of bread crumbs
oil for frying
While your risotto is still cold, form into 16 small portions – sometimes I take a large bowl and put the risotto inside, and then score it like a pie into 8 slices. I then take each “slice” and split it into two pieces. Voilá – sixteen portions! Wet your hands and form each of the portions into a smooth ball. Push a cube of mozzarella into the risotto and roll again so that the cheese is completely covered by the risotto. Place on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of wax paper. When you’ve rolled all of the arancini, place in the freezer to allow them to solidify a bit.
While the arancini are cooling, break out 3 shallow dishes. Add 1/2 c. of flour to one dish. Scramble the egg and two tbs. of water together in the second dish. Place the breadcrumbs in the third dish. Take the arancini out of the freezer and start an assembly line. First dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then, plunk them in the egg to wet them all over. Lastly, dredge in the breadcrumbs and place on a clean dish or another cookie sheet lined with parchment.
Heat a pot of cooking oil to 320° and gently lower a batch of arancini into the hot oil (5 at a time is good). Cook until beautifully golden on the outside, about 7 minutes. If you don’t cook your arancini long enough, they will not be meltey goodness in the inside. Drain on paper towels and serve with marinara for dipping.
- Use any risotto recipe you’d like to make these guys – just make sure that it’s good and cool when you start working with it. My recipe for Rock Shrimp Risotto is a good starting point – just leave out the shrimp and you are in business.
- After you dredge the shrimp in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, you can freeze the arancini. They can be fried from frozen at 340° for 9 minutes.