January’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was a ball! The lovely Manu from Manu’s Menu brought our taste buds to the streets of Sicily and taught us her family tradition of making arancine – filled and fried balls of risotto. Delizioso!
It’s been awhile! I did actually complete some of the fall challenges, just never got around to writing them up. I figured the new year, right before I’m too busy for anything, would be a great time to jump back in. (What? Totally sensible. No?)
So, with Manu’s many options, I chose to make the Arancine el Ragu — meat arancine. This was basically a three step recipe: make the risotto (and let it cool), make the meat sauce, then assemble and fry the arancine. Mods on my part? I didn’t feel like making special trips the grocery store for this challenge, so I skipped the saffron in the risotto, and substituted ground turkey for the ground beef in the meat sauce. I also halved the risotto recipe (it looked like a lot of risotto) but kept the sauce recipe in the same proportions. This turned out to be genius for reasons that I’ll cover later. For now… the recipes!
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (55 gm) (2 oz) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1½ teaspoons saffron threads — omitted in my case
3 cups (750 ml) (600 gm) (21 oz) Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
½ cup (120 ml) white wine or extra stock or water — I didn’t have white wine on hand, so I used water
About 4 cups (1 litre) beef stock — I used chicken
½ cup (120 ml) (55 gm) (2 oz) Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
- Start by putting the stock in a pot and heat until hot. The stock has to be hot all the time while you are cooking risotto, so that the rice temperature does not drop when you add the stock to it.
- Put the finely chopped onion and the extra virgin olive oil in a pot and let it cook on a slow (low) heat, until the onion becomes soft and transparent.
- Add the rice, mix well and let it cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the rice becomes translucent.
- Now pour in the white wine and let the alcohol burn off by cooking on a high flame.
- Then add enough stock to cover the rice and turn the heat to medium-low.
- Keep cooking, occasionally stirring the rice and adding stock little by little, until the rice is a little more than half cooked. It is going to take about 13 minutes (NOTE – the rice HAS to be undercooked at this stage as it will keep cooking until it cools down completely. By the end of the process it will be just right).
- After approximately 8 minutes add the saffron and keep cooking.
- After the 13 minutes are up, turn the heat off and add the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano to your risotto. Mix very well, until it becomes creamy, but dry (if it’s too moist, you will have a hard time making balls out of it). Check for salt and season to your liking.
- Pour on a sheet of baking paper, spread well and allow to cool down completely.
I did this, and felt that my risotto was not as dry as would be desireable. (This suspicion was later confirmed.) I think the biggest culprit was that I “glugged” a little too much olive oil into the pan initially, and it never really got absorbed.
With that said, this risotto was delicious in its simplicity. Creamy, just a little bit cheesy, so good. It took an effort not to keep nibbling at it, and just let it sit and cool. I’ll have to try it sometime with the saffron!
Ragu / Meat Sauce
1 medium sized onion, finely diced
1 big carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
10½ oz (300 gm) (ground) beef mince
7 oz (200 gm) Italian pork sausage (better if with fennel) – optional (if you don’t use this, just add extra beef mince) — I just used pork sausage, but can definitely see how fennel would have made it better
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (50 ml) red wine
2½ cups (600 ml) tomato purée OR 1-2/3 cups (400 ml) tinned diced tomatoes plus 3/4 cups (200 ml) tomato purée
½ cup tomato concentrate
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons (30 ml) of extra virgin olive oil
5 peppercorns or a pinch of freshly grated pepper (optional) — NOT OPTIONAL!
1 cup (240 ml) (4½ oz) (130 gm) of frozen baby peas — I… totally forgot to add these
- Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery and put them in a pot with the extra virgin olive oil. Let them fry on slow heat till soft (but not brown).
- Then add the mince and the sausage (without skin) and stir well. Make sure to break the mince and sausage so that there are no lumps and it all browns well.
- Raise the heat a little bit and add the red wine.
- When the alcohol has evaporated add salt, the peppercorns and the tomato puree.
- Add 4 glasses (1 litre) of water and the salt and stir. Cover the pot and cook on low heat for at least 1 hour (the more the better).
- When almost cooked add the frozen peas and let them cook. Add water if needed (or reduce the excess water) until the right consistency is achieved. It has to be quite thick to make stuffing easier.
This sauce is delicious. It’s so simple, yet still so very good. I had no regrets about making a bigger batch: sometime later this week, my plan is to use the leftovers to create freezer lasagnas. Assuming, that is, that I don’t find reasons to nibble away at it until then…
2 oz (60 gm) Mozzarella cheese, diced
1¾ oz (50 gm) Mortadella/Bologna, sliced and diced (optional) — I omitted this
Saffron Risotto (as per above recipe)
Meat Sauce (as per above recipe)
Egg white — I ended up using two eggs for a half-batch of the risotto
Breadcrumbs — Probably about 1/2 – 3/4c each of breadcrumbs and flour
Vegetable oil for frying
- Make the Saffron Risotto as per the recipe provided (above) and let it cool down.
- When the rice has cooled down, make 10 to 12 balls with it and then open them by putting your thumb in one side. The hole has to be quite large to allow you to fill them as much as possible with the stuffing.
- Fill them with 1 tablespoon of meat sauce. Add some cubed fresh mozzarella and mortadella/bologna (optional) and close the balls with your hands and keep them aside.
- Roll them in egg white (slightly beaten with the fork) and then in a mixture of flour and breadcrumbs (half and half).
- Shallow fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Serve warm.
Now, I’m no onigiri-making maven, but I am generally pretty good at stuffing rice balls. I was surprised to find this to be a tougher challenge, most likely due to two things. First, as stated above, my risotto was probably not dry enough (and too oily to boot), and secondly, my arancine were likely way smaller than recommended. (I made half the risotto but still ended up with 10 balls.)
In either case, it wasn’t insurmountable, and I did get better at rolling and coating with a little practice. After that, a little pan-frying and… they were done!
So, in all… I have to say that I found these to be slightly disappointing. The risotto was so good on its own, but by the time the balls are breaded and fried, honestly all I tasted was “fried”. It seemed like a waste of good risotto. BUT. The sauce is a keeper!
To be honest, I probably would make these again (they were pretty fun, if very filling) but I think I would just use leftover risotto (as if we ever have any… but you know) rather than making risotto specifically for this. If nothing else, a night in the fridge would probably help my moisture issues!
Thank you Manu — this was a fun and tasty experiment, and I can’t say enough good things about that sauce!