All cultures have dishes that use leftovers creatively. Some are so good that you make extra food and therefore, leftovers, just to have that dish. I was always told that arancini, the Italian rice balls that are made from leftover risotto, is one such dish. Alas, my first taste of arancini at a London farmer's market was underwhelming. Lukewarm rice and a soggy coating surely didn't make me an arancini fan. I had arancini again on my trip to Italy, but it was always pre-cooked and reheated so I really didn't see what the big deal is.
Then yesterday, while making risotto for lunch, I decided I'd make some extra and figure once for all what the deal with real arancini is. And finally, eating this carb loaded, cheesy dish right out of deep frying, I finally get it! Arancini can be truly wonderful when it's piping hot and just fried. You should try it too.
The base of a good arancini is good risotto. Mine was spinach and three cheese risotto but you can cook plain risotto if that's what you like, or whip up your favourite version. Whatever type you make, take out one cup cooked risotto and leave it in the fridge for several hours for any liquid to get absorbed in the rice. Apart from the rice, you will need 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, some finely diced mozzarella and either an egg or 2 tbsp milk. Plus oil for deep frying of course.
Make golf ball sized portions of your rice. Pick each one, make a dent in the middle and add some cheese. Roll back into a ball to cover the cheese, adding more rice if needed. Spread the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate. With a pastry brush, add a layer of beaten egg or milk to your arancini - egg is traditional but I personally prefer milk. Now dip the balls in the breadcrumbs, rolling them around to coat evenly. Put the arancini back in the fridge to chill for a few minutes.
Heat oil in a pan to smoking point - about a 1-2 inch layer so you can get the arancini crispy. Drop 2-3 arancini into the pan at a time and fry until golden brown. Eat immediately to get the full flavour of a crispy, carb loaded, gooey snack.