The following post is the full copy of our column from the February 20, 2013 edition of The Forum. Our column appears in the SheSays section every Wednesday, and you can also access past columns right here on the blog.
The Academy Awards take place this Sunday and, regardless of which movie or actor takes home the coveted Oscar statue, we know one thing for certain: Hollywood loves to celebrate itself. Following the ceremony (and weeks of fasting by some), the glitterati will descend upon the after-party scene to feast with one another on fancy finger foods prepared by famous celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck.
Tony and I may not get out to many movies together, but we do love to follow the food. A trend that we particularly enjoy is when a chef takes an ordinary, everyday food and gives it an update, or perhaps more appropriately, a facelift. Food is personal, and by using a common, familiar food as inspiration, guests will often be more willing to try something new.
We love this idea, and have decided to give it a try this week. Using the ever-popular Fried Mozzarella appetizer as our inspiration, we are sharing Tony’s recipe for Sicilian Arancini Balls, a dish that received its name because of its resemblance to “little oranges,” or arancini in Italian.
Originally created by Sicilian peasants in the 10th century as a way to utilize leftover risotto, today these delicious little balls of rice are considered the golden jewel of Sicilian finger food. Tony and I first enjoyed this classic treat together years ago, while on a ferry boat crossing the Strait of Messina from Calabria to Sicily.
We frequently serve this appetizer at cocktail receptions, and our guests adore the surprising blend of textures: the golden, crunchy, fried coating of the shell gives way to the creamy goodness of the rice mixture inside.
We pair our arancini balls with a simple tomato sauce for dipping, which invokes the comparison to the afore-mentioned Fried Mozzarella. But what sets this dish apart from its ubiquitous cousin is its complexity of flavors. The risotto filling is accented by parmesan cheese, green peas and a little ground beef, which add to the tangy richness that fills your mouth with every bite. And, unlike fried mozzarella sticks, arancini balls are still delicious even after they’ve gone cold (although they are best when served fresh and hot).
There is no one way to serve arancini balls, and we encourage you to have fun with the preparation. Change up the recipe by using shrimp and other seafood instead of ground beef, or substitute fresh mozzarella for parmesan cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, get creative with the dipping sauce by making a fresh pesto or flavored aioli. The only ingredient that cannot be replaced is the risotto.
The risotto can be made several days in advance, but must be chilled for at least one to two hours before using so that it is firm enough to form into little balls. Once the risotto is chilled, you can form the balls and refrigerate them for up to two days before cooking. Wait until you’re almost ready to serve before breading and frying the balls; or, fry them and refrigerate for up to two days, then re-heat them in a 350’F oven for eight to ten minutes.
You may not be on course to win an Oscar this year, but you will win rave reviews when you serve this classic Sicilian specialty at your next party.