Every so often, the boys and I trek to the Paperback Exchange---an English bookstore---near the Duomo in Florence. While their books are a bit overpriced, it remains a gem as it is full of paperbacks, cookbooks, school books and more. Plus you can turn in already-read books for pennies on the dollar (we are big fans of 'recycling' books---it is less about the pennies).
On one such day, Anthony (my 14 year old) was scouring the shelves for his next-read; I snuggled into a nearby chair and devoured a Sicilian cookbook. He finally picked a Ken Follet that he hadn't read, and I walked away brimming with ideas for this post. I had seen arancini on another blog, had just walked through an outdoor market where these were being sold (and tried them!) and then again---these fried risotto balls popped out of the pages of that Sicilian cookbook.
I knew what I had to do.
Besides, adding these to my culinary repertoire means I have a go-to plan for leftover risotto.
To be fair, when I think fry I think: unnecessary fat. But if you do it right---at the exact right temperature and with proper coating---the fat shouldn't sink in at all. If fried food is that all-to-familiar 'greasy' then 1. either the grease is old and needs to be changed, 2. the coating was uneven, 3. it was left too long in the fryer, or 4. the temperature was too low. (If it is really crisp but still cold in the middle---the temperature was too high). You see? Don't fry all the time, but once in awhile is okay and if done right: your food won't be greasy and heavy but rather crisp and heavenly.
I sampled the arancini at the festival. It worked, but I wouldn't be a repeat customer. Still I took photos so you can see the 'insides' of an authentic arancini. Pictured fillings: pancetta and peas (cone shaped, to tell them apart) and meat ragu (spherical).
Then, I did what any aspiring chef would do: I made my own.
I had leftover risotto, and placed it in my hand, pushed a big dent in the middle and filled it. Then I wrapped the risotto around the filling, dipped it in stirred egg whites, rolled them in panko crumbs and lightly fried them in olive oil (I know, lower burning point but Mario Batali swears by it... and give me time, but I think I might too).
My fillings: fresh mozzarella and a dollop of pesto AND mushroom ragu. The kids loved them. Some chopped sundried tomatoes and mozzarella would be lovely, too. Make them small and use them as bite-size appetizers, or fill them with meat, make them large and call them lunch. They can stand in as a side dish at dinner as well---just aim to make the filling complementary to the main course (and then by all means, punch up the color with some veggies!).