I have a confession to make: I knew nothing about arancini when I fried up a batch the other day and took these photos. All I knew was that I had some leftover risotto—not enough to even make a decent lunch for the next day—and I didn’t want to throw it away. I discovered that I also had a little bit of flour, an egg, and some breadcrumbs, so I thought what the hell? and played around with rolling rice into gloopy balls, dipping it in the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs in that order, and then chasing Steve around the house with my breadcrumb elephant-man hands.
After calming down and frying the balls in shallow oil, we made short work of scarfing down the lot, breaking into the crisp outer shell to find oozing rice inside studded with pancetta and leeks, like some kind of savory Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Washed down with a glass of homebrew, the arancini made a perfect lazy weekend afternoon snack, and seemed like a completely different creature from the original risotto we had eaten the night before.
Then today I did a little reading and found out that they are something of a cult dish in their native Sicily. Even Inspector Salvo Montalbano from Andrea Camilleri’s famous detective novels—a fictional foodie I’d take recommendations from any day—goes to great lengths to get his hands on a homemade batch. Every household does them slightly differently, but the main components are risotto, mozarella, peas, ragu (and I don’t mean the stuff from a jar,) flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. The idea is to bury a few chunks of cheese, peas, and some ragu in the center of the sphere of rice, using as little risotto as possible but enough to keep the secret contents from escaping. Then coat the little devils in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, and fry in hot oil until crisp and golden.
Well! That sounds like it would put my batch to shame…I’m already looking forward to more leftovers…