(Click on PHOTO to enlarge and then hit the back arrow to return to original size).
Food always brings us back to a place, a person or a memory and today I was thinking about my Grandmother once again. She was such an important part of my life. My Grandmother could whip up a great meal from odds and ends in the refrigerator and it was always delicious. I was so in awe of her talent. Bob teases me when I “whip” something up, that Grandma would be proud.
Every Friday night when I was a child, my Grandmother would put on her Italian albums, ( Jerry Vale, Jimmy Roselli, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra) and she would dance and sing in the kitchen as she made snacks for us.
I am proud to say that I can sing along with most of those songs. I have no idea what I am saying, but I can sing along to the Italian songs.
Keep in mind that we just had dinner, but there was always room for Grandma’s snacks. They ranged from pizzettes, calzones to zeppoli and then the ultimate snack – Arancini / RICE BALLS.
Arancini means “little oranges”. Arancini are rice balls stuffed with meat, peas and mozzarella, coated with breadcrumbs and deep fried. In Sicily, saffron is used in the risotto giving the rice an orange color. The name derives from their shape and color.
I just LOVE rice balls. The best street fair food at any Italian Festival as far as I am concerned. You can keep your sausage and peppers, just give me the rice ball.
I have been on a quest to find a rice ball as good as my Grandmothers and it’s not easy. My son likes rice balls too and we have sampled a lot over the years. I like the traditional filling made with meat sauce, peas and mozzarella.
Many, many times I have purchased rice balls that looked fantastic and golden and crispy, only to find that they didn’t make them the traditional way with the meat, peas and mozzarella and instead they only have a small mozzarella cube inside or they are too dry. Very disappointing.
I have tried my hand at making my own in the past, but never had any luck when it came time to assemble them. My rice balls never looked like Grandma’s and they were all different sizes. My hand is not that big, and can’t hold all that rice and filling. Plus, the rice is sticky and not easy to handle.
Recently, a video popped up on Facebook that caught my interest immediately. A rice ball maker. Could this be the answer I was looking for? The video was in Italian but the demo looked too easy. Easy and rice balls in the same sentence was just too much for me to handle.
I have another friend on Facebook (Paula) who is as big a “gadget girl” as I am and she saw the same video. We both knew this had to be our next purchase and we were on a mission to find this gadget. Paula found it on ebay and shared the great news. So off to ebay I went.
There were two shapes to choose from, round or a cone; I chose the round like Grandma’s. I remember when I was younger that the cone shape was used to let you know there was a different filling other than the meat and peas.
This gadget is very pricey for three pieces of plastic ($47.74 with shipping) but to me, it will be worth every penny if it lived up to it’s promise.
Well, it finally arrived and I have to tell you, I LOVE my new kitchen gadget!
(Click on photos to enlarge)
The instructions are in Italian but with only 3 pieces and a photo it wasn’t hard to figure out what to do.
So here is my journey in pictures of my rice ball experience…
I made risotto with Arborio rice according to package instructions and let it cool.
COOKS NOTE*- you can put a sheet pan in the freezer and when you are ready, take it out and add the hot rice. This will cool it faster.
I made a quick meat sauce with added peas.
I diced half of a fresh mozzarella ball into cubes.
I just had to snack on the other half- it’s a weakness I have. I love fresh mozzarella too.
My work station.
Fill the bottom half of the gadget with cool risotto.
Put the plastic cap on the rice and using one of the tools provided, make a well for your filling.
Add your cooled filling of meat & peas with mozzarella cubes.
Add additional rice to close the ball.
Remove the cap and invert the rice ball into your hand.
My first rice ball fell apart and I was very upset.
I had to cool the meat filling a little more and the problem was solved.
I made 12 perfectly round rice balls just like Grandma.
I popped them in the refrigerator for half an hour to firm up.
Prepared my dredging station…flour, eggs and breadcrumbs.
All rice balls coated and in the refrigerator for 15 minutes while I set up the fryer.
The fryer is ready at 350 degrees. This is so much easier than using a saucepan filled with oil; since it eliminates a lot of the hot oil splashes. This model is the Waring compact counter top fryer. If you ever have an opportunity to purchase one, I highly recommend this.
Love to hear that sizzle.
All done; sprinkled with a little grated cheese instead of salt.
I am so happy ….they tasted just like Grandma’s.
Bob absolutely loved them. I can’t wait for my son to come for Christmas, so we can make them again and he can taste them too. My search for the perfect rice ball is finally over.
Well, you could say that this new rice ball maker was worth every penny.
I think it is the best gadget I ever bought.
Now on to the recipe…
The recipe I used is a combination from Chef Sabrina DiPasquale, owner of DiPasquale’s restaurant in Baltimore, MD and my added touches.
Arancini / Rice Balls
For the risotto:
3 tbsp. of butter – ( 3 tbsp. of olive oil can be used if you prefer)
1 lb. Arborio rice- ( 2- 1/2 cups)
6 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup grated cheese (Locatelli or Parmesan)
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 package of saffron powder (optional)
For the meat filling:
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 lb. ground beef
6 ounces (1 small can of tomato paste)
1 cup water
1 -1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed ( more can be added to your liking)
1/2 cup of fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For assembly you will need:
Fresh mozzarella ball, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup all purpose flour
Salt and fresh ground pepper
4 eggs, beaten
Breadcrumbs, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the rice:
Follow package directions
Follow the instructions below
Heat 6 cups of chicken broth in a sauce pot- (If using saffron add it to the broth now).
Heat the butter in another pot over medium high heat
Add the onions and saute until translucent, adding a pinch of salt
Add the rice and stir until evenly coated. Toast for a few minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of white wine. Once the alcohol starts to burn off, start adding the first ladle of HOT chicken broth
Once the broth has been absorbed, continue to add a ladle at at time of broth, stirring occasionally.
Once ALL the broth has been absorbed, the rice should be tender and creamy, but “al dente”
Remove the pot from the heat and add 1 tbsp butter and the grated cheese and mix well.
Pour the rice onto a baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours to cool.
The rice should be able to form into a ball once cooled properly.
For the filling:
Heat 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a saucepan
Saute the onion, celery and carrot until translucent
Add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper to taste
Once the beef is added, with a wooden spoon, break down any chunks; the beef should be as fine as possible.
After browning the meat, if you find there is too much fat, simply drain some of the fat out and continue (you don’t want to make the rice soggy)
Add the can of tomato paste and 1 cup water. Mix well
Once the ground beef and the tomato paste begin to simmer, turn down the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.
If the mixture begins to stick, add a touch of water
Add the peas and 1/2 cup of torn fresh basil
Cook for another 5 minutes to heat the peas
Transfer to a bowl and cool in the refrigerator
Set up a dredging station of flour, eggs and breadcrumbs
Remove the cooled rice from the refrigerator and add two egg yolks to help bind the rice mixture
Remove the cooled meat mixture from the refrigerator
“If you do not have a rice ball maker, follow the directions below”
Take a handful of cooled rice, form a ball and flatten slightly while forming and indentation in the middle of the ball
Take a teaspoon of the cooled meat mixture and mozzarella cubes and place in the indentation of the rice
Take another handful of rice and finish forming the rice ball. The rice will be sticky so dip your hands in water to better handle the rice
Repeat with the remaining ingredients until all the rice balls are formed
Place the tray of rice balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up
Now to the dredging station:
Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the flour. Add some grated cheese to the breadcrumbs. Added parsley to the breadcrumbs (optional).
Dip each rice ball in flour, then egg and then the breadcrumbs to evenly coat
Once all the rice balls are coated, place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes while you get the fryer ready.
After 15 minutes, fry the rice balls in 3 inches of oil in a sauce pot (or fryer) at 350 degrees for approximately 3-4 minutes until golden brown.
Once they are done, place them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any extra oil. Sprinkle with some grated cheese.
COOKS NOTE: If you don’t have a candy thermometer to test the temperature of the oil, just heat the oil and toss in some breadcrumbs. If they sizzle, you are ready. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the temperature will drop.
Have a great time cooking and enjoy your arancini!
They are best served hot, but can be served at room temperature as well.
Serve with marinara sauce (optional)
Until my next post, make every day a celebration!
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They look so delicious. I love rice balls too. So how is the bah humbug month going?
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The month is busy. Knowing that Michael is coming home for Christmas is getting me through
That will be nice to have Michael home. Has he made decision on hospital yet
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He has NO say in where he goes for residency. He gets matched on Match Day in March and it will be a surprise for all of us.
Of all your post this was my absolute favorite. (Not that I would go through all that work to make them.) I too love rice balls but no one in my family made them. I have just ordered them from Pizzarias and restaurants (some better than others.) What I loved most was learning about your relationship with your grandma. You have no idea how lucky you were to have her. My mother’s mother died before my mother got married. My father’s mother lived a long life (by those earlier year life expectations.) She lived until I was 10. However, I never had any relationship with her other than giving her a hello kiss and a goodbye kiss. She was severely disabled, not able to walk. It wasn’t until I got RA that I realized that the arthritis she had was RA. And back then there was no medication to help, you just became an invalid. (How lucky I was to get it at a time when they were making good strides with meds.) She also couldn’t speak English and I didn’t know any Italian. Thus, I never spoke to her. To hear that you had a grandmother who cooked, and danced did make me a bit jealous. It is so wonderful that you have those memories to cherish. Love, RO
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Roseanne, I only wish you had the opportunity to meet her. She would have adopted you as another granddaughter. She was a very strong woman and very important to me. She did it all. She came to United States as a young girl and started working as a seamstress, got married, had three children and when her husband died she raised her children alone.
She knew the NYC subway system better than anyone, took me to all the tourist attractions in NYC and taught me about my Italian heritage and traditions. She was always fun to be with. She lived four months shy of her 100th birthday. I have to tell you a story about that day when I see you. I miss her every day. She would have loved you.
This is the picture of beauty on a plate!!! Wow I love this Diane!!
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