Arancini, or crispy fried risotto balls were invented by the Italians to use up any left over risotto. Taking something totally delicious and turning it into something arguably even more delicious is pretty clever, and I had never made them before. I never get to the part where there is any leftover risotto. Cheese is often included, but for my version I decided to make a roasted tomato risotto and then roll this around a smoked mussel, crumb and deep fry.
Lucky Star, the iconic canned fish brand in South Africa approached me to come up with a new and interesting recipe using one of their products, and I could pick whichever one I liked in their range. Smoked mussels it had to be.
I fell in love with smoked mussels in my late teens when my boyfriend at the time introduced them to me. We would eat them straight up on a cracker on the beach for sun-downer picnics, and he made a pasta dish I loved, and will always remember that included tomatoes, onions, garlic and smoked mussels. I wanted to create a dish that had all the flavour of his pasta but would be a creative and interesting way to use a smoked mussel.
Tomatoes, when simply roasted with olive oil, thyme, good sea salt and pepper turn into something quite magical, and in this recipe I used a combination of ordinary tomatoes and a selection of Mediterranean vine and rosa tomatoes.
This recipe for roasted tomato risotto is delicious so you can make just that, or, do as I did, and use almost all of it to make the arnacini. The Lucky Star mussels added a a lovely smoky rich flavour and would work really well stirred into the risotto just before it has finished cooking, and to heat through, or to make the risotto balls. Either way they take the dish to a whole new awesome level.
* cooks notes – I love my risotto very saucy, but for arancini you need it drier as this makes it easier to roll. If yours is a little damp, simply cook it a little longer and / or add more finely grated (powder like) Parmesan cheese which will help hold it together. I also popped my risotto in the fridge after making it to cool it quickly. I made my arancini quite big, but try and make them as small as possible while still enveloping the mussel. Put the ready-rolled risotto balls in the fridge to firm up even more before frying ( I didn’t do that, but mine were not perfectly round). The breading part is messy and you will have a little waste, but I have not found a way around this. Set up a production line with the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs. Dampen your hands between rolling to make it easier, and try and get your family to help.
When it comes to risotto, stock is very important to the overall flavour, so use the best that you can.
The making of risotto requires constant stirring and is best enjoyed with a glass of wine in your hand and a friend nearby to talk to. I absolutely adore the almost meditative process of making it, and resign myself to the 20 odd minutes being glued to the stove. I find it, along with pastry and bread making, about giving over large amounts of love to your food, and this makes me very happy.
- Roasted tomatoes
- 4 medium tomatoes, cut in half
- +- 200g vine, cheery or rosa tomatoes (about 2 cups)
- 1 T olive oil
- a sprigs of thyme
- Sea salt and Pepper
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup of risotto rice
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine
- 3/4 cup of pureed roasted tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- +- 1 litre stock (use any good quality chicken or vegetable stock), kept warm on the stove
- small handful of fresh basil, finely shredded
- 3/4 cup roasted baby tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 liter sunflower oil
- roasted tomato risotto (as per above)
- 1 x 85g tin Lucky Star smoked mussels, drained
- 30 - 40g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups bread crumbs
- basil aioli and fresh lemon wedges to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F, arrange the tomatoes on a tray.
- Drizzle over the olive oil, scatter the thyme leaves and sprigs, and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- When the tomatoes have roasted, start on the risotto. Heat the olive oil in a heavy based pot and sweat your onion until it has softened. About 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains. As they just start popping / catching add the white wine and stir continuously until it is absorbed. Add the pureed roasted tomatoes and garlic and continue stirring. Add the hot stock one ladle at a time until the risotto is cooked but still al dente. About 3 minutes before the end, add the rest of the roasted tomatoes and the finely shredded basil. Add the grated Parmesan, and adjust seasoning to your taste.
- To make your arancini, set up a production line with your breading ingredients laid out in flat dishes next to each other. Scoop the chilled risotto into your palm, pop a smoked mussel in the middle and mould the rice over it and roll gently into a ball. You could pop all your risotto balls on a tray and put them in the fridge to firm up even more before the next part. Lightly roll this in the flour, quickly dunk it through the egg to coat (do not leave it in the egg at all), and immediately put it on the bread crumbs and lightly coat. Heat your oil in a large heavy based pot until it has reached 190C / 375 F and fry the arancini in batches until golden brown Drain on kitchen paper.
These are delicious served with home-made basil aioli to dip, and the recipe with full instruction on how to make it can be found here. Simply stir through finely chopped fresh basil or basil pesto to the basic recipe. Add a spritz or 2 of lemon juice if you desire, although the tomato does give a nice acidity.
*disclaimer – Lucky Star paid me to develop this recipe and supplied product.
I look forward to connecting with you again in the future.
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