When was the last time you enjoyed leftovers?
For me, it was when I turned a Pyrex full of three-day-old risotto into this recipe below. Aside from chili or other stew-like dishes, it is a sad fact of home cooking that most dinners don’t taste as good the second time you eat them. I was determined to turn that risotto into something more appealing.
And if risotto is my favorite way to eat rice, another Italian dish is my second favorite: arancini. Arancini are balls formed out of rice and stuffed with usually ground meat and cheese, then breaded and deep fried. Glistening and piping hot, it is the perfect thing to eat when you’re two red wines in.
I have not waded into the deep-fryer-at-home waters much yet, so I turned to the oven. Baked arancini? Is that a thing? Yes! Somehow, this recipe really works, and I am here to tell you the secrets.
First, you need some risotto. The dish is made up of simple building blocks: rice, broth, cheese. Some butter, too, to ensure a creamy finish. But the truth is, it’s not about all that dairy. The magic of risotto comes from slowly and attentively building flavor and broth into short-grain rice. My favorite from-scratch risotto recipe is here. If you have one, go ahead and make that. The only requirement is that it needs to be a leftover: Make it at least one day before you make the arancini. (And feel free to mix in some ground beef or mozzarella or even Cheddar cheese to your existing risotto before putting it to work in this recipe.)
Now, because we’re not frying these babies, we need to create some deep flavor right out of the gate. That’s where toasting bread crumbs comes in. By getting a golden color and some garlicky-salty flavor on them before they’re used to bread the rice balls, the finished product can more ably mimic that fried look and taste.
With the help of some eggs and yogurt, the risotto is brought back to life and then shaped into balls and coated with the bread crumbs. From there they go into the oven, which turns these cold rice balls into hot, crispy, cheesy morsels.
Take that, leftovers.
Baked Arancini With Peppery Tomato Sauce
For the sauce:
1 red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Handful of fresh basil, chopped
For the arancini:
1 to 2 cups panko bread crumbs
Salt, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
2 to 3 cups cooked and chilled risotto
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup all-purpose flour
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Fresh parsley, chopped, for serving
Make the sauce: Cut the top off the red bell pepper, then halve it lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and ribs and cut into quarters. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure the pepper pieces are coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place in oven on the top rack and broil until pepper is very brown and charred. Keep an eye on it. When pepper pieces are mostly charred, remove from oven. Carefully remove any very charred skin and chop the rest of the pepper very finely. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add garlic and a swirl of olive oil. Cook for 5 minutes until garlic is lightly browned, then add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the charred red pepper. Bring to a boil, season with salt and pepper and stir. Lower to a simmer and add red pepper flakes and basil. Taste it and adjust seasonings if desired. Simmer for 15 minutes while you prepare arancini.
Make the arancini: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread bread crumbs out on the parchment paper, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. Cook for 5 minutes, until crumbs are lightly browned and fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place cooked risotto in a large bowl, then add egg, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Start adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in between each addition. About 4 tablespoons in, try to form a ball about the size of a golf ball with the risotto. If mixture is too sticky or not holding together, add the rest of the flour. If ball holds together, you’re good to go.
Prepare another baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper and coating with cooking spray. Gently roll risotto mixture into balls; you’ll likely get between 20 to 25. Place on balls on prepared baking sheet.
Carefully roll balls, one at a time, in bread crumbs on other baking sheet until each ball is coated entirely with crumbs.
Place arancini back on risotto baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake for about 25 minutes until brown. If you want them even browner, broil for about 5 minutes, watching them to make sure they don’t burn.
Serve hot with sauce on the side and more Parmesan cheese and parsley to garnish.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times