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Italian Cheese & Lemon Arancini

Arancini di riso, or risotto balls (“little oranges” in Italian, named as such because of their color and shape), are flavored and/or stuffed little balls of rice, then breaded and deep fried or baked. They are said to have originated in Sicily, but are not found all throughout Italy and vary as to the ingredients depending on the region.

When I was in Northern Italy in 2009, we stopped into a small market deli in Genova, on the coast of the Mediterranean, and picked up arancini stuffed with buffalo mozzarella. This was the first time I had heard of them. Risotto had already become one of my favorite Italian meals, so when we came home, I began to experiment with risotto flavors, then for a party recently, decided to try the arancini. Since we were having salmon at this dinner party, I decided the lemon would be a nice accompaniment.

Ingredients

  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 8 ounces dry white wine
  • 6 ounces water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated with a microplane
  • 10 ounces Arborio rice
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup Sargento brand, shredded 6-cheese Italian blend
  • 2 Tbsp dried or fresh parsley
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 cups panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
    For a gluten-free option, use crushed Rice Chex cereal in place of the panko bread crumbs.

Directions

For the risotto: Heat the stock, wine, and water in a pot next to the risotto pot. Keep a ladle or 1/2 cup measuring cup in it to use.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add in the Arborio rice and sauté for a few minutes to toast the rice. Add in 1 ladle (or ½ cup) stock to the rice and stir frequently.

As the rice absorbs the stock, add another ½ cup and let the risotto cook through, and keep doing this until you’ve used all of the stock. Stir frequently to release the starches in the rice, and watch to make sure it doesn’t stick.

When cooked through add in the lemon juice, lemon zest, Parmesan, and other cheeses, parsley and black pepper. Mix thoroughly. Put in the refrigerator and let it cool for 2 hours or so.

To bake the balls: Heat the oven to 400° F. Place the panko bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Using a small spoon or small ice cream scooper form the risotto into 1-inch balls and roll them in the bread crumbs, and place on a greased (or nonstick sprayed) cookie sheet.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 48 pieces.
(Another option is to deep fry these, if so, heat oil to 375°F and fry the arancini a few at a time, then place on a paper towel to drain.) These can also be frozen ahead and heated through at a later date.