We at Food Junta love risotto. (You can see us loving all kinds of risotto here.) But what do you do with risotto leftovers? You do not reheat them, that’s for sure, unless you want to be dealing with a gummy mess. Risotto, friends, does not reheat well.
It does, however, freeze well, which seems a paradoxical statement, until, that is, I introduce you to the ideal use for leftover risotto: arancini. Arancini are Italian fried rice balls, the traditional Italian peasant way to stretch every meal as far as it can possibly go, and get every last use out of every leftover. And — dare I say it — they may actually be even more delicious than risotto itself.
Arancini are simple enough, but they are a bit messy, and a little time-consuming to deal with. While arancini are basically just a fried ball of risotto, there are a few more layers to their creation that will make them fry (and taste) best. Let’s work from the inside out.
The center: At the very center of the rice ball, you want a little square of cheese. You can put all sorts of things in the center in addition — other popular fillings include peas and cubes of prosciutto). But it is important to have cheese, typically mozzarella, in the center; when the arancini fry, the cheese will melt, and then you will have an ooey gooey center that is the best part.
The risotto: The main body of the arancini is the leftover risotto. Any kind of risotto is fine. If it’s been frozen, then thaw it in the fridge before using (you can also microwave it or heat it up in a pan if it’s not quite defrosted when you’re ready to go).
The outer coating: You want to dredge your rice ball in flour, then dip it in a beaten egg, and then coat it with breadcrumbs. This will give you the best fry. The breadcrumbs are, I think, the most important part, imparting the crunch that will contrast with the soft center. I tried one in just flour; it was gross. I haven’t tried them with just breadcrumbs.
To assemble the arancini, I suggest setting up a little assembly line: the risotto, the cubed cheese, a bowl with beaten egg, a bowl with flour, and a bowl with breadcrumbs. Stuff the cube of cheese into the risotto and form a ball around it (much like assembling a butter burger). Using only one hand to touch the ball, and holding a spoon in the other hand, move the ball through the flour, egg, and then bread crumbs. The point of only using one hand is you will only get one hand completely covered with goo. Which it will be. It comes right off in water, but still, you don’t want both your hands to be goo-covered paws.
Frying the arancini is maybe the most intimidating part. I love deep-frying, but it took me a little while to get used to it. Done right, it’s not scary, and it’s supposedly not even that bad for you. Heat a couple of inches (enough so that it would basically cover the arancini) of vegetable oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-sized heat, checking on the oil’s temperature occasionally. Now, I don’t have a thermometer I can use to take the oil’s temp; instead (and I think this may actually be a better method altogether), I just take a little bit of whatever it is I’m going to fry (in this case, the risotto) and drop that into the oil. If the oil sizzles up around the bit you drop in, then the oil is ready for frying. If it’s still, then it needs to be heated longer. If it REALLY sizzles, then it needs to be cooler. This is something you will just pick up from practice. Be careful when you’re dropping in the bit, and also the subsequent food. The closer you are to the oil when you drop the food in, the less it will splash; so, carefully, try to basically place the arancini into the oil when it’s ready.
The main rule about frying, other than making sure the oil is at the right temperature, is not crowding the pot. Four rice balls fit comfortably into my pot at a time. They fried for probably 5-7 minutes (until golden brown all around but not too dark), then I removed them with a slotted spoon, put them on a plate covered with paper towel to drain, and let the oil heat back up a bit before starting the whole process over again.
When planning your menu, remember that arancini are very rich. I was surprised that I was only able to eat 2, as was my dinner guest. I made a simple salad to go with. Arancini, also, heat up extremely well, baked in the toaster oven or regular oven for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees F, making a totally amazing snack.
I don’t think a recipe is really needed…Everything about arancini is up to you — the filling, the kind of risotto, even the size (I prefer mine to be on the smaller side, but I’ve seen them as big as tennis balls). Just remember the basic ingredients: leftover risotto, cubed mozzarella cheese, a couple eggs (beaten), flour, bread crumbs (you want the fine kind that you buy from the store, not make yourself), and vegetable oil.
Don’t be scared of the fry. Try it, and I promise, you will be making extra risotto just so you can have enough leftovers to make these little guys every time.