Deliciously crispy on the outside and creamy and fragrant on the inside...
I've been aware of these little delights for a while now - but had never eaten one, let alone made one. The concept seemed pretty simple, a stuffing centre surrounded by risotto and then encased in a crispy breadcrumb coating. The stuffing flavours came to mind almost instantly. Sweet apricot, slightly bitter walnuts, salty almond feta and lemon thyme to tie everything together. The risotto I decided would be saffron and lemon, which would compliment both the stuffing flavour and colour. Feel free to experiment with flavours though as I can imagine so many more combinations. The only vital part to this recipe is getting the risotto consistency spot on so that the balls don't fall apart. These were reasonably easy to make (you can just take your time on the assembly part), and the recipe made 6 large balls, so this would be perfect to serve 6 as a starter course - or they can be made smaller if you prefer. To make the process easier, the risotto, stuffing and breadcrumbs can be made a day or two before and then assembled on the day of eating,
So onto the ingredients and recipe. I'll start with the risotto.
1 onion very finely chopped
1 garlic clove very finely chopped
Olive oil and butter
250g Arborio rice (do not rinse or soak)
1 litre hot veg stock
1 pinch saffron
Finely grated rind of one lemon (or the juice of one lemon if you want a more subtle flavour)
In a large pan place a good glug of olive oil and a knob of butter, together with your onion and garlic. Cook gently on a low heat until the onions become soft but not coloured. Now add in the rice and stir to coat everything in the oil. Turn your heat to medium and add in a ladle of your hot stock together with your saffron. Stir the rice well and continue to add the stock, ladle by ladle, allowing the liquid to be absorbed between additions. You need to stick with it and keep stirring until all your stock has been used and your rice is lovely and plump - this should take around 15 to 20 minutes. Add in your lemon zest or juice and check for seasoning. If you need salt and pepper then go ahead. Once you're happy, set aside to cool completely while you get on with your stuffing mix.
For the stuffing you will need...
Approx 8 dried apricots
Half a cup of walnuts
Half a cup of almond feta (recipe to follow or you can use shop bought)
1 tbsp of chopped lemon thyme leaves (or just plain thyme will be fine)
2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
For the feta...
150g almond meal
60ml lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
Simply blitz all these ingredients together to make the feta, shape and bake at 170C for about 15 to 20 mins. You'll only need a small amount of this so you'll have plenty left to enjoy another day!
For the stuffing, pulse the apricots, walnuts, feta, etc together with a drizzle of olive oil until nicely mixed but still retaining some texture. Set aside.
For the breadcrumbs to coat the Arancini, simply toast two slices of bread (I used wholemeal) and then once cold, blitz into fine crumbs.
Once your rice is cold, you're ready for assembly. Set up a kind of production line of your rice, your stuffing and then the breadcrumbs on a plate.
Take a good spoonful of your rice and place it in the palm of your hand in a circle shape. Place a tsp of your stuffing mix into the centre of the rice and working slowly but confidently, start to tease the edges of the rice up and around the stuffing until it's all encased and you have a nice neat ball. Roll your risotto ball around in the breadcrumbs until its all coated and then place on a clean plate. Once you've used all your risotto, place your finished Arancini in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes to firm up. You may find you have stuffing mix left over - don't worry, you can use it as garnish on the finished dish.
All that remains now is to fry and bake. Preheat your oven to about 180C. Heat about an inch depth of vegetable oil in a fry pan on a medium high heat. To test when its ready, drop in a small piece of bread and if it sizzles, you're ready. Gently place each ball into the oil (in two batches) and leave for a minute or two. Keep your eye very closely on them and carefully roll them over once you can see the breadcrumbs turning brown around the oil line. Fry for another couple of minutes on the other side and then remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with your second batch and then place the whole lot onto a lined baking sheet. Into the oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes and then you're ready to serve.
These were lovely with a classic pesto drizzled over the top and sat on a bed of spinach leaves. I used the remainder of the stuffing mix to scatter around for a garnish.