When I was 17, I spent the summer in Italy. After traveling through Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, I lived with a host family in Sicily for a month. I kept a journal while I was there, and wrote in it religiously every night. A few years ago I found the dairy beneath a pile of books in my childhood bedroom. I thought it would contain a detailed account of my entire trip; instead it was basically one long, exhaustive list of everything I had eaten. I guess I was a food writer before I even knew what it meant to be one.
Today's Cook the Book recipe, excerpted from Wine Bar Food, is for arancini. Here is what I had to say about these delicious, golden-brown bites the first time I had them: "For dinner, they took me to get a 'piccolo arancia [sic]' which is a fried ball of rice with cheese, tomatoes, and meat inside. At first I thought I wouldn't like it, but it was actually wonderful! After that…I had banana ice cream, which was good, but I liked the granita better."
Traditionally a Sicilian dish, this recipe is given a Roman twist with the addition of ground lamb. Perfect for a cocktail party or a casual dinner appetizer, these arancini can be made in advance and frozen for up to a month. Enjoy with a glass of hearty, black current-flavored Nero d'Avola.
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Rice Balls Stuffed with Lamb, Spinach, and Cheese
Adapted from Wine Bar Food
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces ground lamb
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Large handful of fresh spinach, stems removed
- 5 large eggs
- 11/2 cups grated aged Pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
- 11/2 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4·inch dice (2 tablespoons)
- 1 cup dried bread crumbs, preferably panko
- 1/2 cup all·purpose flour 1 quart canola oil
Combine the rice with 1 quart of water in a medium saucepan. Season lightly with salt and simmer over medium heat until all the water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour the rice onto a cookie sheet and spread it out to cool. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the lamb is completely browned, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, a minute or two. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the rice is cool, stir in 2 of the eggs and 1 cup of the grated pecorino cheese. Using your hands, shape the rice into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Use your finger to make a hole and fill it with a little of the ground lamb mixture and 2 or 3 cubes of the mozzarella. Press the rice up and over: the opening to close. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before breading.
Beat the remaining 3 eggs with a pinch of salt in a shallow bowl. Put the bread crumbs and remaining 1/2 cup pecorino in another shallow bowl. Put the flour in a third bowl. Dip the rice balls in the flour, then in the beaten eggs, and then in the bread-crumb mixture. Shake off any excess. The rice balls can be cooked immediately or refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 1 month.
To fry, heat the canola oil in a deep-fryer or heavy-bottomed pot to 325°F.
Add half of the rice balls to the hot oil and fry, turning as needed so they brown evenly, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from the hot oil and drain on paper towels. Wait for the oil to return to 325°F before repeating with the rest of the rice balls. When cool enough to handle, after about 3 minutes, transfer to a serving plate and serve immediately.