This recipe for baked arancini where leftover risotto is stuffed with fresh mozzarella balls, herbs, and bacon, breaded and baked is a meal you’ll be happy to invite your family over to enjoy with you.
Sunday dinners worked like clockwork when I was growing up. They were spent at my grandparents’ home, wrestling on the floor with my uncle, eating black olives off our fingers, and for me, silently sitting in the kitchen watching my grandma fuss over the meal. Her hair would be pulled back under a triangle cloth; my babushka wearing her babushka. Smells of roasting meats and simmering sauces would float around the house, catching under our nose and promising we’d all be stuffed soon enough.
I can close my eyes and instantly be filled with the memories of Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, but these days there are none for my own children to imprint in their heads, so I must create them myself.
It starts, you see, with an invitation. Generally our requests are rather last-minute. A simple text, a random phone call to see what they’re doing, dropping by their house unannounced to invite them over just hours before dinner will be served. My house is generally still in disarray, as it seems to be the new norm around here, but the patio is presentable, and I figure I’ll just blindfold my guests before I send them through the house to use the WC.
Once the invitation is extended and accepted, then we add random things to the meal to make it stretch, like gnocchi and pasta because I just invited my brother, sister, and her boyfriend over for dinner in 50 minutes. Ahem.
Here’s the thing. No one cares about my crazy, or that I made a random mix of carbs to stretch the meal, and my kids smiled and laughed and spent time with some of their favorite adults, whom they then coerced into giving them piggyback rides up and down the hill in our backyard, one right after the other. (We did carb load, after all.)
It doesn’t hurt to have a bunch of leftover risotto to turn into arancini and a garden full of heirloom tomatoes that make the most delectable homemade sauce to serve them on. Arancini is a wonderful way to use up leftover risotto, but it’s also a great excuse to just make an extra large batch of it. Stuffed with tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, peppered bacon from the farmers market, and fresh basil and oregano from the garden, it’s hard to say no to seconds of these baked beauties.
Facts and Tips for Making Arancini:
- The word “arancini” comes from the Italian word for orange, and the fried balls of rice do sort of resemble an orange. (I realize mine are baked and not fried. Keep reading.)
- On baking: To get the outside crisp I used a Misto filled with extra virgin olive oil and generously sprayed the bread crumbs. You could also melt a bit of butter and coat the crumbs with it before you cover the rice balls. Both are acceptable and necessary if you want a crisp little ball.
- You could fill these with things other than mozzarella balls. I liked the idea of a fresh mozzarella core, though. I’ve seen them filled with meat mixtures, vegetables, whatever. (Cheese is where it’s at.)
- Bread crumbs: I used tradition here, but panko makes them a bit more crisp and crunchy. Use whatever makes you smile (or whatever you happen to have in your pantry).
2 shallots, minced or 2 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/4 cup crumbled bacon/pancetta (optional)
16-20 small fresh mozzarella balls (about 6 ounces)
2-3 cups cold risotto
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko or traditional bread crumbs
olive oil for misting
Preheat the oven to 375º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In a medium saute pan, head the olive oil. Add in the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in the oregano and basil and stir until herbs are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the herb mixture to the mozzarella balls (and bacon/pancetta if using) and stir to mix.
Take approximately 2 tablespoons of cold risotto in your palm and flatten slightly. Add one mozzarella ball covered in the herb mix to the center. Cover the cheese with the rice and roll into a ball form. Dip the ball into flour, shaking lightly to remove any clumps, then into the beaten eggs, and finally, roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Place the coated ball onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto until all of the risotto and/or cheese balls are used.
Spray the arancini with olive oil to coat. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with marinara sauce.
Makes 16-20 arancini.