Dish of the Week: Arancini

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're learning about the Southern-Italian street food, arancini.

Meaning "little oranges" in Italian, arancini are balls of breaded and fried risotto. The orange part of the name comes from the shape and golden color of small fritter.

The dish was said to have developed in 10th century Sicily during Kalbid rule, as the rice balls are similar to popular Middle Eastern foods. Saffron, a prominent spice in medieval Arab cuisine, was often incorporated into the rice mixture. Today, several variations can be seen in Italy and throughout the world. There is arancini con ragù, a rice ball stuffed with a meat sauce, mozzarella, and (sometimes) peas. And arancini con funghi, which incorporates, you guessed it, mushrooms. Even Houston's own Coppa Osteria has a version of the dish; Here, it's stuffed with burrata, a cream-filled mozzarella that oozes with decadence.

This recipe, from chef Mario Batali, makes a classic arancini con ragu with rich lamb sauce and a dreamy saffron-infused risotto. We add peas for extra flavor and color.

Arancini con Ragu

Ingredients makes about 8 large rice balls For the risotto 5 to 6 cups chicken or beef stock 1/8 tsp ground saffron 4 tbsp unsalted butter 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

For the ragu: 1/2 cup olive oil 2 1/2 pounds ground veal 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1 cup tomato paste 1 (6-oz) piece Parmesan cheese rind 2 carrots, peeled and quartered 1 teaspoon sugar 3 cups chicken stock Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For breading/frying: Egg whites, beaten 1 1/2 cups good-quality dried bread crumbs Cooking oil (vegetable, peanut, etc.), for frying


To make the risotto: In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the stock until almost a boil. Turn the heat to very low and stir in the saffron.

In a 10- to 12-inch saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Immediately stir in the rice and cook over medium-high heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir continuously until the rice is coated in the butter and begins to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the rice burn.

Keeping the heat at medium-high, begin ladling the hot broth into the rice, about 2 ladles at a time. Constantly stir with the wooden spoon until the rice has almost absorbed all of the broth. Continue adding the both bit by bit until the rice is al dente or tender, about 20 minutes.

Once the rice is cooked, stir in the peas and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and immediately add the egg yolk and the remaining tablespoon butter. Stir to thoroughly combine and set aside to cool.

To make the ragu: In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook the olive oil, veal, and onion over high heat. Stir often, and continue cooking until the veal loses its pink color.

Add the tomato paste, cheese rind, carrots, sugar and chicken stock. Turn the heat to medium low and allow the ragu to simmer for about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, until quite thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to combine and remove the ragu from the heat. Let cool for about 45 minutes.

When the ragu is cool to the touch, place a scant cup of rice into the palm of one hand and use the fingers of your other hand to form a cup-like mound of rice. Place a generous tablespoon of the ragu into the rice cup, then gently fold the outer edges of the rice over to cover the ragu, completely enclosing it. You should have a ball of stuffed rice and there should not be any ragu leaking out. You may need to add a little more rice to enclose the ball. Set the arancine aside and use the remaining rice and the remaining ragu to make about 7 more balls.

Roll each finished ball carefully through beaten egg whites, then dredge through breadcrumbs. Place the arancine on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, heat 4 inches of cooking oil in fryer or deep frying pan to 375 degrees. Carefully place 3 balls at a time into pan and fry until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring with tongs or kitchen spoon to keep them moving. Set on paper towels to drain and continue cooking until all arancini are cooked.

Serve immediately.

See more Dishes of the Week: Dish of the Week: Coq Au Vin Dish of the Week: Argentine Chimichurri Dish of the Week: Flourless Chocolate Cake Dish of the Week: New England Clam Chowder Dish of the Week: Beef Stroganoff Dish of the Week: Hushpuppies Dish of the Week: Irish Soda Bread Dish of the Week: Pastitsio Dish of the Week: Chicken Tikka Masala Dish of the Week: The Cuban Sandwich Dish of the Week: Chicken and Chorizo Empanadas Dish of the Week: Potato Kugel Dish of the Week: Korean Fried Chicken Dish of the Week: Wiener Schnitzel Dish of the Week: Mexican Chilaquiles Dish of the Week: Falafel Dish of the Week: Fish and Chips Dish of the Week: Jucy Lucy Dish of the Week: Gazpacho Dish of the Week: Baklava Dish of the Week: Steak au Poivre Dish of the Week: Fried Green Tomatoes Dish of the Week: Turkish Shish Kebab Dish of the Week: Alabama White Sauce Dish of the Week: Plum Clafoutis Dish of the Week: Spaghetti alla Carbonara Dish of the Week: Homemade Pierogi Dish of the Week: Scallion Pancakes Dish of the Week: Mofongo Dish of the Week: Summer Risotto Dish of the Week: The Chicago-Style Hot Dog Dish of the Week: Beer-Battered Apple Fritters Dish of the Week: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Dish of the Week: Chicken-Fried Steak Dish of the Week: Soufflé au FromageDish of the Week: Manhattan Clam Chowder Dish of the Week: Klobasneks Dish of the Week: Moussaka

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano