The mister was out of town last week and I was alone in the house for the first time ever, except for Caesar Beezer the Wonder Dog, who loved having me all to himself. It was kind of strange, no kids, no husband, no one to cook/bake for, no one to do laundry for, no one to steal the remote! I almost didn't know what to do with myself! And then I snapped out of it and got busy! I had a great time with me, myself and I - I talked myself into doing all kinds of things, but not to worry, I was careful not to leave any incriminating evidence. I capped off my week by making Italian rice balls - I absolutely love them and so does the mister, so I made sure there was a fresh batch waiting for him when he got home, because that's the kind of gal I am!
Once the rice is made, it's left to cool until it can be handle, and the cooler it is the better it sticks together. Here's a tip for you, if you grate your own Parmesan cheese, with a rind on it, save the rind to use in soups and sauces, it will give them a nice flavor. The cheese whiz at Whole Foods told me to give the rind to my dog as a special treat...so I did...Caesar Beezer promptly spit it out and then raced to his water bowl! Obviously not all dogs think cheese rind is a special treat! If you make these, and I highly recommend that you do, make sure you put on some good Italiano music to make the frying part more fun...I went with Mario Lanza, followed by Pavarotti, and as I was frying, singing and swaying, I remembered what my mom once said, "Pavarotti is no Mario Lanza or Caruso, but he'll do!" Yes indeed, he'll do! That's Lanza pictured above...he is said to have inspired Pavarotti's career...and I'm sure Pavarotti enjoyed a few rice balls over the years! Maybe they were the secret to his voice?!?
Rice, peas and ham held together with cheese, rolled into balls then floured, dipped in egg and rolled in bread crumbs...and then they are fried till they are golden brown...crispy on the outside, creamy and cheesy on the inside...rice balls are the new meatballs, feel free to quote me!
These are great plain but we like them with marinara sauce - sometimes I make my own or if I'm lazy I'll just open up some of the jar stuff...either way these are dang good! I'm giving them 5 dangs on the ol' Dang Meter because they are not only delicioso, they are fun to make and are a really nice change from meatballs! Serve them with pasta or not - if you're counting carbs just ladle on some sauce and call it good...no, call it great!
Italian Rice Balls - Adapted from Lidia's Italy
5 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely diced ham (or you can use prosciutto or cooked and crumbled bacon)
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (if you don't want to use wine substitute with one more cup of chicken stock)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving as a garnish
10 basil leaves, finely chopped
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, (you'll need about 40 cubes)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fine dry Italian breadcrumbs
4 large eggs
vegetable oil, for frying
In a small pot, warm chicken stock over low heat. In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until onion begins to soften, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the ham or prosciutto and cook a few minutes, until it begins to render its fat. Add the rice and cook to coat the rice in the oil/fat. Pour in the wine (or chicken stock if not using wine), bring to a simmer and cook until the wine is almost reduced away. Add 3 cups of the hot chicken stock and the salt. Cover and simmer until the chicken stock is absorbed by the rice, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups stock and recover. Cook until the rice is al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes more. Uncover, if any liquid remains, increase heat and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, another minute or 2. Stir in peas and spread rice on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.
When the rice is cool, put in a bowl and stir in grated cheese
and chopped basil. Scoop out enough rice to make a ball about the size of a golf ball. Push a cube of mozzarella cheese into the center, and press the rice around it, forming a tight ball around the cheese. You should get about 40 golf-ball sized balls/arancini.
Spread the flour and breadcrumbs on 2 rimmed plates. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Dredge the balls/arancini in the flour, tapping off the excess. Dip them in the beaten egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat thoroughly.
In a large, straight-sided skillet, heat 1-inch vegetable oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully put in 4 or 5 balls. Don't squeeze too many in or it will take longer to fry and they won't be as crisp. Fry in batches, turning on all sides, until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper toweling. Season with salt while still warm. Serves 8 to 10 people (about 4 arancini per person). Serve with marinara/spaghetti sauce. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese.
These make a great side-dish instead of potatoes or plain rice - I'm telling you straight, you're going to love 'em!