3.14.2011

luck o' the italian?

The other night I made a spinach + basil risotto. It was the most gorgeous green color and was really tasty too. In true morgan fashion, I made way too much and had a TON of leftovers. I get that from my mom. My dad always teases her saying "what are you feeding an army?!". So I cooked to feed an army and I wanted to do something different with the leftovers than heating them up in the microwave. That's when it hit me...

I remembered my first day living in Rome. I flew to Italy a week before my study abroad program started and met up with my best friend from high school who happened to be doing a semester there as well. Meg picked me up at the train station in Rome and boy was she surprised to see me with all my luggage in tow. I packed 3 GIANT bags and had a carry on sized suitcase. I don't know what I was thinking because I alone could not carry all these bags. It was quite comical towing 2 bags a few feet, going back, grabbing the other two and so on and so forth. I will never make that mistake again! Thank god Meg was there to help me! Back to the food, there was a point to all this! Before we even got to Meg's apartment, she insisted we stop into this deli and get a little rice ball stuffed with mozzarella. We lugged all my bags into this shop, and got 2 "aranchini", my first taste of italy. It was a tomato based risotto ball stuffed with a mozzarella ball and breaded and deep fried, HELLO! Hot gooey mozzarella, risotto, fried, heaven could not make a more perfect combination!

Remembering that first sweet taste of Italy I decided why not make spinach + basil flavored aranchini? So that's what I did. They were gorgeous and green and perfect as a St. Patty's themed dish. No, the ingredients aren't irish but it's bright green... that counts, right?

Make these aranchini for St. Patricks day this year and you won't even miss the guinness and jameson and cabbage and whatever traditional fare people eat for the Irish holiday. Although, you could definitely serve these with a green beer. In fact, I highly recommend it!

Aranchini
ingredients:
2 c. cooked risotto (see recipe below)
2 eggs
2 T. parmesan cheese
2 c. + 4 T. bread crumbs
5 oz mozzarella diced
4 c. olive oil or vegetable oil


yields 16 - 20 balls

Preheat oven to 225ยบ. In a mixing bowl, combine risotto, eggs, parmesan, and 4 T. bread crumbs. Combine until mixed. On a plate, place remaining 2 c. bread crumbs. I made mine with both panko and regular bread crumbs. Both worked great but I preferred the crunch of the panko. Cut mozzarella slices into small chunks about the size of a quarter. I used the fresh mozzarella mini balls and cut them in half. It was the perfect size! Next take 1 mozzarella chunk and a teaspoon full of the rice mixture and roll together to form a ball. Mine ended up being a little bigger than a golf ball. You need just enough rice to cover your cheese. Then roll in the bread crumbs and place on a baking sheet. Repeat until you're out of rice. Place in the fridge and let chill for 20 min.

Heat oil in a deep skillet or pot over medium - medium high heat depending on your stove. You know the oil is hot and ready when you toss in A drop of water and it pops. You can also test with a SMALL pinch of flour, it will do the same thing. Fry up 3 - 4 aranchini at a time. Pull out and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Place in the oven between batches. Once the frying is all done, let last batch heat in the oven for 5 minutes with the rest of the balls. This will let the oil drain and the cheese get extra gooey.

Serve with marinara sauce or ranch. You can serve them with your favorite dipping sauce but I actually prefer them plain.

improv style:
the risotto is where you can get really playful in this dish. instead of spinach + basil, try a more traditional tomato based rice. You can put your favorite flavors into the rice. The second area you can improvise is the breading. If you can't find panko or don't have any on hand use the traditional bread crumb or even the italian flavored kind. Don't have any bread crumbs? Put 2-3 slices of bread in the food processor and make your own! Add some cayenne or other seasonings to give your bread crumbs a kick of flavor! You can make this gluten free by substituting the bread crumbs with rice flour. They're not quite as crispy on the outside but they're still tasty!


Spinach + Basil Risotto


ingredients:
1 clove garlic
1 shallot
1 c. arborio risotto
1 34 oz box of good quality chicken stock (I like Kitchen Basics)
3 c. spinach leaves slightly packed (one big bag)
2 c. basil leaves loosely packed
¼ c. white wine (I like Kendall Jackson Chardonnay)
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
½ c. parmesan cheese


yields 4 hearty servings

In a food processor, combine the basil and spinach leaves. I pulsed mine until it was very fine but if you like a bit of texture, you can play with the coarseness.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the chicken stock to a mild simmer. Dice shallot and place in a deep medium sized skillet or sauce pan and saute with olive oil for 2 minutes. Peel garlic and give it a whack and place smashed clove (do not chop) in pan with shallots. Add arborio rice and brown for 1-2 minutes. This gives the rice a great flavor and is an important step in the risotto making process!

Next add wine to the pan, give it a good stir. Then slowly, 1-2 ladles full at a time, add the warmed chicken stock to the rice mixture, just enough to cover the top of the rice. Constantly stir the rice and continue to add chicken stock as its absorbed by the rice. You'll start to notice that the rice expands. You want to cook arborio al dente so be sure not to add too much liquid. You can always add more, but you can't take liquid out. Not sure if your rice is done? Take a spoon and try a few grains. You want it to be firm but chewy, not hard and not mushy. When the rice is done, stir in spinach + basil mixture, butter, and ¼ c. parmesan cheese. Stir until it's incorporated.

improv style:
don't have shallots? use onions instead. you can substitute the basil for any herb you love. mint or italian parsley would be great. just don't go overboard on the mint, it's a powerful herb! you can leave the wine out if you don't have any or don't want to open a bottle. i just love the flavor it adds to the dish!

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, why are you in Chicago!! I can't believe you made these!!!!! LOVE IT!

    ReplyDelete