As I come from Napoli, one of the ‘street food’ items that I most love is arancini, rice balls. We call them arancini in Napoli, in other parts of Italy they change gender and become arancine, and have different versions. From the massive rice balls eaten in Sicily, full to the brim with mince meat ragu and peas (the best in my childhood memory used to be on the ferry between mainland and the island, believe it or not!), to the small, bite size no tomato sauce version found in Napoli’s friggitories, regional variations are found everywhere.
I love them and so does my husband, yet I had only attempted once years ago to disastrous results and never tried again. A few months ago I attended a rice masterclass with Danilo Cortellini, head chef of the Italian Embassy and following his guidance, I then felt confident to try them again myself. Using Danilo’s base recipe (also included in his first book 4 Grosvenor Square dedicated to the Embassy’s menus and dishes), I tried some different fillings I thought would work well.
I was really pleased with the results, not only on the flavour combination which brings together the sweetness of romesco peppers, the bright colours of the tomato sauce and the smokiness of scamorza, again flavours I am so familiar with from growing up in the Med. I order the scamorza from Nife is Life.
Below the recipe for my sweet and smokey version of these mouthwatering mini bites. As you can see the kitchen can get a little messy! But it’s so worth it.
- 250gr arborio rice
- 100gr tomato & pepper sauce (see notes)
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 1 free range egg
- 100gr smoked scamorza
- 50gr grated Grana Padano and pecorino (mixed)
- 20gr unsalted butter
- 15ml dry white wine
- White flour
- 2 free range eggs for the egg wash
- 100gr breadcrumbs
- Salt / pepper to taste
- In a large, dry pan, start heating up the rice, stirring frequently. This process toasts the rice, ensuring it will keep al dente and have a good flavour. Once the rice is hot, add the wine and let it evaporate, the add the stock one ladle at the time, letting the rice cook. Set the cooking time to 17 minutes and about 10 minutes in, add the tomato and pepper sauce, stirring regularly and then adding some more stock if the rice dries out too much. After the time is up, remove from the heat and taste to adjust salt levels to your liking. Add the butter, the grated cheeses and the egg, mixing well. This is a crucial step called 'mantecatura' in Italian, and it's where you obtain the creaminess to the rice (or a pasta dish too, for that matter). Let the rice cool down then add the cubed scamorza and mix well.
- With an ice cream scooper (I used a small one with the clip release), make little balls of rice about 3cm in diameter and rest them in a tray; place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I kept them overnight as well. This ensures they become harder to handle and will cook better.
- When ready, heat the oil in a deep pan. Meanwhile place the flour, the breadcrumbs and the beaten eggs in bowls. Start by lightly flouring each rice balls then placing it in the egg wash and finally coat it in breadcrumbs. Repeat the last two steps if you want a thicker crust. Fry them in the hot oil for about 10mins or until golden brown. Sprinkle with some salt flakes and enjoy them hot! If you are entertaining, you can rest them on a tray and keep in a warm over until ready to serve.
- To make the sauce, I browned a clove of garlic in olive oil in a pan; then a sliced romesco sweet pepper (removing the seeds), and finally 500ml of passata (unflavoured), and salt to taste. Once cooked (about 40 minutes), I used a stick blender to ensure the pepper's slices were well blended. You will have plenty of sauce left for a good pasta dish!