Arancini from Sicily – new year comfort food

January 16, 2015 § 1 Comment

It’s only mid January and I’m heartily sick of reading about detox diets and the like. So much so that I’ve perversely made a slightly late new year’s resolution to make more use of the deep-fat fryer that lurks in my garage.

I’ve made a great start already with this lengthy but easy-to-follow recipe for the ultimate Sicilian snack arancini aka deep-fried rice balls. I first came across arancini in a Sunday magazine supplement when I was a university student. I was much taken with the concept and had a go at making them but made the fatal error of assuming that Uncle Ben’s rice would be an OK substitute for the the then hard-to-find risotto rice.

Over the years I’ve toyed with the idea of having another go now that risotto rice has become a supermarket staple but what put me off was the distinct lack of leftover risotto. There is very rarely any leftover risotto in our house as it just gets hoovered up. On the odd occasion that there is a portion left in the pan it invariably gets transformed into refried risotto à la Raffle topped with a poached egg as part of a hearty breakfast the next morning.

We visited Sicily and the Aeolian Islands recently for an inspiring autumn break. Arancini were the lunchtime snack of choice to be found on every street corner. These beautifully shaped arancini, one containing mozzarella and pesto and the other meltingly soft aubergines were photographed in a small café by the waterfront in Syracuse in the South East of Sicily. They invariably contain a nugget of savoury filling and are always served warm, something I hadn’t taken on board previously.

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Back in the UK it was finally time to take the plunge and have a go at making arancini at home. I hunted around for authoritative recipes and found Felicity Cloake’s instructions in her carefully researched “Cook the Perfect..” series for The Guardian newspaper to be pretty helpful.

There are a number of steps to be followed to make the arancini but each step is relatively simple and the arancini themselves are quite robust and don’t fall apart or burst in the deep-fat fryer. Also, if you really want to take it slowly, you can make the rice mixture one day, shape it the next and coat and fry the day after that. Best of all, there’s no need to go to the trouble of making a full risotto recipe as the simple method of simmering the rice in stock, giving it just an occasional stir, works perfectly.

The end result is well worth while and the jolly round shape of the rice balls and glorious saffron gold colour of the rice within is very cheering on a dank January day, not to mention the oozing mozzarella pieces and hit of unctuous ragù filling in the centre….

Definitely a recipe I’ll be making again.

Arancini

Adapted from a number of different sources especially Felicity Cloake’s Cook The Perfect..” article from the Guardian online.

Makes 8-10

Ingredients

For the rice base

850 ml stock
generous splash (50ml) dry vermouth or white wine
250g risotto rice (I used Carnaroli)
½ teaspoon salt (you may not need this if your stock is salty and remember that a generous helping of salty grated parmesan will be added to the rice when it is cooked)
generous pinch saffron strands
50g grated parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
150g cow’s milk mozzarella cut into smallish chunks

To complete the arancini

8-10 heaped teaspoons of the filling of your choice eg few spoonfuls of ragù; pesto; sautéed aubergines
1 large egg
180g plain flour
Cold water to mix
Box of Panko breadcrumbs (and maybe a second box)
Flavourless vegetable oil such as rapeseed or peanut for deep-fat frying

Bring the stock and wine or vermouth to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the rice, salt and saffron to the pan then turn down the heat to medium and cook at a brisk simmer for 12-15 minutes until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid and looks like a finished risotto. You will need to stir the rice with a wooden spoon four or five times while it simmers but it does not need the constant stirring called for when making risotto.

When the rice is cooked to your satisfaction, stir in the grated parmesan and season with black pepper. You are unlikely to need additional salt at this stage but do taste and check.

Leave the rice mixture to cool to room temperature then stir in the mozzarella chunks making sure they are distributed evenly. Cool completely and store in the fridge until you are ready to proceed to the next stage.

When you are ready to complete the arancini, first prepare the coating by whisking together the egg, flour and sufficient cold water to form a thickish batter. You are aiming for the consistency of a not too thick white sauce. Next, tip out some Panko breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Now shape the arancini by rolling a generous spoonful of the rice mixture between clean wet hands into an orange or lemon-shaped ball (as per the pictures above). Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke a hole into the middle and carefully ease in a generous teaspoonful of the filling of your choice. Plug the gap either by filling with a little extra rice mixture or by gently massaging back the rice walls to cover the hole.

Dip each rice ball into the batter to coat thoroughly, then transfer to the plate of breadcrumbs and coat carefully with the crumbs, spooning them over and patting them into place. There’s no need to double-dip and coat. Place each coated rice ball onto a tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Finally, you’re ready to fry. Cook the rice balls in small batches (no more than four at a time) in a deep fat fryer at 160 degrees C for about 12 minutes until crisp, golden brown and piping hot in the centre. Drain on kitchen paper and eat while hot or warm.

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