Arancini are leftover risotto balls stuffed with ham or mozzarella, then fried or baked crisp. You don’t make arancini from scratch which is the only reason I hardly ever make them. My risottos are too good for any leftovers to remain!
Croquettes, fritters and arancini
Don’t we all love things stuffed with cheese and fried crisp in a crunchy coating? I certainly do; give me croquettes or fritters every day please.
There’s an interesting question here, at least for me who loves the semantics almost as much as the food itself: what’s the difference between croquettes and fritters?
I was surprised recently to find what they named ‘chicken fritters’ at an otherwise excellent place in Scarborough.
In my books they were croquettes: small neat balls of mashed up chicken encased in crunchy coating.
Chef’s choice of course, but I had always known fritters as flat, pancake-style, eggy patties. Corn fritters, courgette fritters, even ham fritters are flat: you add your key ingredient to beaten eggs, thicken it up with breadcrumbs, cheese or both and fry like blinis.
Croquettes are usually made to use up leftover meat or vegetables: like German potato croquettes, Spanish croquetas de jamon or pollo, French meat croquettes or rissoles.
Along this line of thinking arancini are most certainly closer related to croquettes than to fritters.
Little oranges (except not)
The name means literally ‘little oranges’ and they were first found in Sicily, where oranges arrived with the Arab rule in the 10th century.
They were called thus not only for the shape but also for the orange-coloured breadcrumb coating fried in oil.
Which might mean I should not be allowed to call my dish arancini!
Mine are oven baked rather than deep fried, but thanks to that they are also healthier, a bit like oranges. Ha! Beat that for convoluted logic!
Never any leftover risotto
I don’t make arancini often but that’s not through being lazy, as they’re easy, especially the baked version. Nor is it through not liking them –who wouldn’t!
No, the only reason they are hard to come by in this house is because I never have any leftover risotto. And like you wouldn’t start making turkey curry with a trussed turkey going in the oven, you don’t make arancini from scratch.
Firstly, it just wouldn’t be an Italian thing, and secondly, try and shape warm risotto into balls. Like cold rice for special fried rice, you need leftover, cold risotto, and the fact there’s never too much of it makes the arancini even more preciously delicious.
I do try my best. I calculate the amounts for six when I want to feed four, I cook it as a side dish rather than a main in the hope it will not all be gone, but all in vain.
There’s hardly ever enough left. I guess nothing else remains than make it not quite so tasty the next time I cook it!
How to make oven baked arancini
Once you have managed to secure a sensible amount of cold risotto, at least 400g to make 8 arancini, decide what you want to stuff them with. Obviously, you can leave them plain but only a weirdo would refuse a blob of melty cheese hiding within a crispy rice ball.
My version has a cube of cheese, a sliver of prosciutto and a leaf of basil ensconced in my mushroom risotto arancini. To shape them, use the risotto straight from the fridge. Scoop a tablespoon and flatten into a patty, pile the filling in the middle and shape into a ball dipping your hands in water.
Shaped balls need to be dredged in plain flour, dipped in egg wash and rolled around in breadcrumbs. It’s a good idea to chill them while the oven heats up.
If you spray them with oil generously, they might turn a little orange. They will still be adorable even when pale, with cheese invariably leaking from an odd one. That’s the side effect of baking as opposed to deep frying, I’m afraid, but your cholesterol levels won’t mind leaky cheese in the slightest.
What flavour risotto for arancini?
The answer is short: the plainer the better. Classic saffron risotto, with just stock, butter and Parmesan in it will be ideal.
Failing that, you can use risotto that does not have large chunks of additional ingredients in it – chicken or seafood is rather a no-no.
I used mushroom risotto this time but risotto pomodoro or primavera will be fine as well.
More risotto recipes
If you want to make arancini, make a risotto first, of course. Asparagus risotto is similar to primavera, spring risotto, with the focus on the lovely green spears.
Mushroom risotto made with dried, rehydrated porcini and masses of Parmesan and butter is a royal feast. I love it just with a green salad.
It’s not rice, but spelt risotto with pearled spelt grain and dried porcini mushrooms is made in the same way. A gorgeous vegetarian dish: wholesome, flavoursome and effortless.