This is an easy dish, but it is an involved one–I will be right up front about it. The origin of this dish no doubt came from a frugal nonna’s desire to use up leftover risotto and sauce to avoid any waste. If you find yourself with leftover sauce or risotto, then you will cut the prep time by half.
You can also make the components of this dish on two separate days-in a sense, creating unused leftovers, which will help spread out the prep time. Or you can be daring and just go for it all at once!
For the rice
- 6 cups canned, low-sodium chicken broth
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 cups imported Arborio rice, or other rice specifically for risotto
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the ragu filling
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound top round steak, cut into ½ -inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion, finely minced
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
- ½ cup red or white wine (Nonna used leftover Spumante)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), placed in a bowl and crushed by hand, reserving the liquid
- 1 cup strained tomatoes, such as Pomi brand*
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- 1 (8-ounce) ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼ inch cubes
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup plain dried bread crumbs, placed in a shallow dish
- Oil to fry in (Nonna used sunflower oil. Vegetable or canola oil can be substituted.)
- Salt to taste
For the rice
- Heat the broth in a medium saucepan over low heat. Once the chicken broth is warm, add the saffron threads, stirring to combine. Keep the broth warm over low heat while preparing the rice.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, stir in the rice until it is coated with the butter, 1 to 2 minutes. Add a ½ cup of the simmering broth, stirring until the broth is almost completely absorbed. Add another ½ cup broth and continue cooking, stirring continuously, repeating the process of adding broth when it is almost absorbed. It should take 15 to 18 minutes to cook the risotto.
- When the last addition of broth is almost absorbed, remove the risotto pan from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter and the Parmigiano-Reggiano until well combined. Set pan aside to let the risotto cool while the filling is prepared.
For the ragu filling
- Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, stir in the cubed beef, salt, and pepper. Cook until the beef is browned on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the browned beef to a plate and set aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon oil to the hot skillet and stir in the onion and garlic, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes until the onions are soft and golden.
- Stir in the wine and reduce by half. Return the browned beef to the skillet, stirring until well combined with the onion and wine mixture. Add the crushed tomatoes with all their juices, strained tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and stir until the mixture starts to come to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 to 3o minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the frozen peas at the end, stirring until well combined.
- Remove skillet from heat and set aside to cool.
- Place ⅓ cup of the cooled risotto into the palm of your hand. Form into a cup or nest shape. In the center of the cup, place two cubes of mozzarella and a teaspoon of the filling, making sure there is a piece of meat and some peas in the teaspoon. Add one more mozzarella cube to the filling. Slowly form the cup over the filling into a ball, enclosing the filling inside the ball.
- Set aside while you prepare the rest of the rice into balls.
- Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep fat fryer.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the water and flour until a thin batter is formed. Roll the arancini (rice balls) in the batter mixture to coat, then roll in the bread crumbs, covering completely and shaking off any excess bread crumbs. Set on a plate while the rest of the arancini are breaded.
- Heat oil in a deep fat fryer. Once the oil is hot, fry the arancini, a couple at a time, until they are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels, and salt the arancini while still hot.
Source: Beyond the Pasta by Mark Leslie