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Katie Quinn - Arancini Con Melanzane

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Take a trip to Italy with Kate Quinn's recipe for Arancini Con Melanzane (fried rice balls with eggplant) from her new book, “Cheese, Wine, and Bread.”
Arancini Con Melanzane
Course:
Dinner
Cuisine:
Italian
Yield:
Makes 8 to 10 Balls
I still dream of the food I ate during the couple of days I spent in Catania. Pistachio everything
(pistachio gelato, pistachio granita, pistachio pesto!); the ubiquitous eggplant, in caponata and Pasta Alla Norma; and, perhaps my favorite bite of all, the various arancini I ate, deep-fried and perfect with a glass of wine.

These fried, filled rice balls are often round, but are sometimes shaped with a point at the top and a big, round base, resembling a pear. They can be golf ball size, on the small side, or as big as a softball! Like many things in Italian cuisine, these variations are determined by region, preference, and how Nonna did it. The arancini I had in Catania were approximately baseball size (one i had was pointed, the other rounded; this recipe makes the rounded version).

Arancini originated in tenth century Sicily, when the island was under Arab rule, and if they’ve stuck around this long, you know they’re good eating. An indulgence worth every bite.

Panko or breadcrumbs will work for the coating. Use arborio rice, the same rice you use to make risotto. Arancini are the perfect way to use up leftover risotto. If you’re good at multitasking in the kitchen, cook the filling while stirring the risotto. (if that seems too stressful, finish the risotto, then cook the filling.)
INGREDIENTS:

Risotto:

  • 8 cups (2 liters) vegetable broth
  • 2 ½ cups (500 grams) arborio rice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) white wine (preferably one that’s high in acidity, such as Sicilian Carricante)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Filling:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 large eggplant (Aubergine), cut into roughly 1/2-inch (1-centimeter) dice
  • 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) red wine
  • 1/2 (14-ounce/400-gram) can diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • 3 ½ ounces (100 grams) mozzarella cheese, shredded or cut into 1/2-inch (1-centimeter) cubes

To Assemble:

  • Sunflower oil or other neutral oil (you will need between 1 and 3 quarts/liters of oil, depending on your wok or Dutch oven)
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg white
  • Fine sea salt for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Make the risotto: pour the broth into a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the broth hot.
  2. Place a large, high-sided pan over medium-high heat and add the rice. Toast the rice, shaking the pan to move the grains around, for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until fragrant. Pour the rice into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Return the pan to medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Add the onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the onion begins to brown. Add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom. Return the rice to the pan and stir to combine.
  4. Add a few ladles of the hot broth and cook, stirring continuously, until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding broth a ladle at a time, letting the rice soak up each addition before adding the next, until you’ve used all the broth, around 20 minutes. At this point, taste the risotto: the rice should be cooked, but al dente (with a little firmness to the bite). Add the lemon juice and cheese, season with salt, and stir. Taste and add more salt if needed. Transfer the risotto to a wide bowl or plate and let cool to room temperature (so it’ll be easy to handle).
  5. Make the filling: set a medium pan over medium heat. Pour the olive oil into the pan and add the onion. Season with a pinch of salt and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the eggplant and stir. Season with another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Taste, then add a bit more salt if you think it needs it. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring every couple of minutes, for 10 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  6. Assemble the arancini: fill a wok, Dutch oven, or large pot about halfway with sunflower oil (the oil should be deep enough that when you add a rice ball, it’s completely submerged). Place over medium-high heat to get the oil hot for frying.
  7. Place the breadcrumbs and egg white in separate large shallow bowls.
  8. With clean hands, grab a small handful (around 1/4 cup/60 milliliters) of the cooled risotto and roll it into a ball. Make a large indentation in the middle and fill it with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the eggplant filling and some of the mozzarella. Place another handful of risotto over the filling and, using your palms, form the risotto into a ball that fully encloses the filling. Add rice where it seems thin or steal risotto from heftier parts of the ball to make sure there’s an even layer around the filling. When you’re happy with the shape, set the rice ball aside on a plate and repeat until you’ve used all the risotto.
  9. Dip a rice ball in the bowl of egg white, using your fingers to coat it, seal the rice, and smooth out the shape. Let any excess egg drip off, then dip the ball in the bread crumbs and roll it around to coat evenly, then return it to the plate. Repeat to coat the rest of the rice balls.
  10. To test if the oil is hot enough, nab a tiny piece of bread from your pantry and drop it into the oil. If it begins bubbling immediately, the oil is ready. Remove the tester bread and use a slotted spoon to gently put a few arancini into the hot oil, taking care never to touch the oil with your fingers. Using the spoon, gently move the arancini in the oil so they don’t rest on the bottom of the pot and become misshapen and so they fry evenly. Fry for 3 to 5 minutes (this will differ depending on how hot your oil is), until the arancini are browned on all sides. Remove them from the oil with the slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle them with salt immediately. Allow the oil to get hot again if you’ve turned off the burner and repeat to fry the rest of the arancini.
  11. And finally, you can stuff your face. These are lovely to dip in an herby, garlicky fresh pesto sauce or a spicy Arrabiata sauce. Enjoy! (no one will judge you for washing these down with some of that leftover Carricante wine you’ve got on hand.)