Pesto Arancini Recipe
Italian cheese-stuffed rice balls by Napa's master
Chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, and winemaker—there's not a lot of the Napa Valley culinary lifestyle scene untouched by Michael Chiarello. He ties together his varied interests in a lifestyle brand called NapaStyle. From his iconic Tra Vigne restaurant in the 1980s to his current Bottega, he has helped define wine country cuisine.
Today, Chiarello shares a challenging yet highly rewarding pesto arancini recipe that happens to be a great way to put leftover risotto to use. Take it away, Chef...
Arancini, or rice balls filled with melting cheese, are for leftover risotto days. I never make the rice from scratch when I’m making arancini at home. If you don’t have leftover risotto, you can make these balls from cooked Arborio rice, but be sure to add a teaspoon or two of salt while the rice cooks. (Honestly, you are better off making a big pot of risotto and then making arancini the next day.)
Arancini remind me of my friend Mariano Orlando. He always made arancini the Sicilian way, his rice balls the size of oranges. We talked once about arancini and he kept saying in Italian, “telephone wire,” making a motion with his hands as if to stretch a length of cord. “What are you saying?” I asked him. “Why are you talking about telephone wire?” The cheese, Mariano said, should stretch like a telephone wire when you take a bite from a perfect arancini and pull it away from your lips.
Our arancini don’t have that same telephone wire of cheese; we use a little less cheese in the middle and a lot more cheese in the risotto. You can add more cheese to the middle if you want to go for the full telefono filo effect.
This is a multi-part recipe. You will also need to complete the pesto recipe with blanched basil and the Food Republic Best Basic Risotto recipe. Then put them all together to make these cheesy balls.
- Line a platter with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, stir the risotto and blanched basil pesto together until blended.
- Divide the rice into 16 more-or-less-equal portions.
- Cut off about 1⁄2 teaspoon of mozzarella and then, with your hands, ball up one serving of rice around the cheese so it’s completely encased in rice. Gently place on the prepared platter. Repeat to form 16 arancini.
- Slide the platter into the freezer for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up.
- Before you take the rice balls from the freezer, set up your dredging station. Pour the flour into a shallow bowl; the eggs into another shallow bowl; and the panko into a third shallow bowl.
- In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat 3 inches of oil over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.
- While the oil heats, dredge each rice ball in flour and lightly shake off the excess. Dip each rice ball in the egg and then in the panko.
- Gently drop 4 to 6 balls into the oil and cook until lightly browned, 60 to 90 seconds. Don’t overcook them or the cheese will leak out into your oil.
- Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer the arancini to paper towels to drain. Repeat to cook the remaining arancini. Serve at once.