There are some people who don’t like leftovers. That may even be you. It is sometimes me: as I am not a teen-aged boy I don’t understand the appeal of leftover pizza. But leftovers make sense. Make enough at one meal to do for another: whether chilled and eaten the next day, or wrapped, labelled and tucked in the freezer,
never to be seen again to be eaten later.
I do fight my irrational inner distaste of leftovers, tucking into leftover stew or curry (which admittedly always taste better the next day) and forking through salads made from leftover grains with added bits and bobs. All very worthy, time-sparing and cost-conscious. But, hmm, how do I put it? A bit dull? Yes, a bit dull, at least sometimes. I think I might not be alone in this. That’s where this recipe comes in. But first a confession of sorts.
A few months ago I was so proud of myself. Properly chuffed. I will get to the point in a sec, but a little preamble first.
My daughter and her friends love to get the traditional fried arancini from a local Italian cafe. Being slim girls, with enviably high metabolisms, this coterie can get away with a bit of fried food without risk to waist line and arteries. But as a former skinny minny I know how this can change. Pretty much as soon as I hit 38 I found I needed to make adjustments to long-held eating habits and tweak more than a few beloved recipes.
Like a lot of people I love melanzane (eggplant) parmigiana, but found that it did not love me. Hence my lower fat, lower carbohydrate version, which I even serve to friends and family still in possession of a discernible waist.
aubergine parmigiana – lower-fat
Most other recipes can also be similarly de-fatted, carb-converted or fibre-enhanced to make them healthier, without compromising taste or enjoyment. You can even make lower fat tiramisu by swapping marscapone for ricotta or even Quark. But arancini I thought was beyond tweaking. It is what it is, crunchy fried risotto balls stuffed with an oozing filling. Served mainly as appetisers in Italian restaurants these tennis ball-sized morsels are extremely tasty when done correctly, but never in a month of Sundays could they be contemplated by those minded to watch their weight, ie, most of us over 40.
Until now. Or so I thought. Once again, I have discovered there is precious little that is completely original in the world of food. For about two days I lived in ignorant bliss, but after an online noodle about looking at ‘ normal’ arancini recipes I did in fact discover a few folk who had beaten me to it. By a few years too, in the case of a brown rice version from Food.com. But mine is a bit different and with varying options for how to get the essential crunch.
My slender of waist 16-year old, sweaty and hungry from playing squash with her Dad, gave it the double thumbs up. And Mr A – also trim, and equally sweaty – gave his own signature exclamatory-interrogative “oh, what!?” which translates roughly as “this is amazing. I hope you have enough for seconds.” They went as far as to say that they prefer these to the fried version, so I felt I had to share it, despite the lack of true originality.
So, my lesson for myself has been that leftovers don’t have to be boring. They just need a reincarnation in the form of something extra special. And if that something special can also be a makeover of sorts, all the better. I would urge you to look at that filled plastic container, languishing unloved and ignored in a new light. Who knows, you might come up with something original too. At least until you log on.
I am linking this up to Tasty Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays, Food ‘n Flix and Fat Tuesday (which is a misnomer, of course).
Baked Marinara-stuffed Arancini (Risotto Balls) – lower fat, lemony and delicious
Leftover risotto chilling in the fridge? Leftover marinara lurking in the deep freeze? Give them – and your family – the five star treatment with these fun to make baked risotto balls. Crunchy on the outside with a soft, melting inside, all these Italian arancini need is a crispy salad and you are good to go. Don’t delay, stuff and roll today!
Leftover risotto – about 3 cups (a simple recipe below)
Leftover or good quality bought marinara sauce – about 1/2 cup (my recipe below), plus extra for serving
Mozzarella ball – about ¼ – chopped into small cubes (optional)
Fresh basil leaves
2 eggs, beaten (using separately, so don’t mix them)
Zest of ½ small lemon
1 cup of panko crumbs or dry-toasted breadcrumbs (gluten-free is fine)
Olive oil, for tray and for mixing into crumbs
First of all, if you don’t have leftover risotto use the cheat’s risotto recipe at the end of the arancini recipe. It will get your risotto the right texture for the arancini without having to faff with an overnight hardening up in the fridge. This is a little drier than normal risotto, but if you are using leftover risotto its overnight spell in the cold will render it the right consistency, unless you made it very wet. In any case, mixing in an egg helps bring it together.
Take your cooled risotto and, with your hands, mix it with one egg and the lemon zest, squidging it a little, and pop it in the fridge for an hour. This sounds a bit of a pest but it will keep you from cursing my name while you make this up. Half an hour might just be okay. Don’t quote me though.
Now is the fun part. Get a bowl/plate each for the sauce, the last egg, mozzarella cubes and breadcrumbs. Also, to keep your hands from sticking to the rice, have a little fingerbowl on standby as well. Take a palmful of risotto in one hand, roll it and, with the other hand, flatten it a little, making a well for the filling. Now put a tablespoon of sauce into the indent, push in a cube of cheese and top with a basil leaf. With a wet spoon take a smaller (about half) amount of rice and smooth it on the top of the filled bit. Sounds a bit tricky but it isn’t. What is tricky is the way I initially tried to do it, all in a one-er, attempting to encapsulate the little blighter without additional rice – squidge-city. The sauce just pushed out. Which is fine, but not so pretty.
Once fully covered roll it in a ball, dip in the egg and roll in the crumbs. I then shaped it into a bit of an awkward pyramid, but you can keep it as a ball. Carry on until you finish the rice, popping each ball/awkward pyramid on a baking tray that you have slicked with 1 teaspoon of oil per tray (I used 2 trays), or sprayed with oil spray.
Now this is where we may diverge. I carefully drizzled each ball with a thin needle of oil, a token amount really. I’m not sure how much was on each, but probably less than a quarter of a teaspoon – not much. You might want to go super skinny and just spray them with an oil spray, or you might want to mix your crumbs with 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil before coating the balls. It’s your choice really. Whatever you do it will be a heck of a lot healthier than frying. I might try the oiling crumbs method next time, but we as a family were very pleased with the result from the drizzling.
Pop the arancini in an oven heated to 200C/400F and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with warmed marinara sauce and a crisp salad. Massive pepper grinder, optional. Makes 10-12 balls (2-3 balls per serving). You can freeze any leftover, uncooked balls and heat from frozen – adding about seven minutes to the cooking time. This can also be made as 20 appetiser sized balls, but these are a bit more fiddly to fill.
A Cheat’s Risotto for Arancini
225g (1 cup) risotto rice – arborio, carnaroli, vialone nano – all are fine
750 ml (about 3 cups) hot, well-flavoured vegetable stock (I use Organic Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon stock powder)
3 spring onions/scallions, finely chopped – white and green bits
Pour the stock over the rice and chopped spring onion and bring to the boil. Give it a stir, then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes. Have a peep and give another stir at 10 minutes. If at 15 minutes it still seems sloppy, give it another five minutes, then remove from the heat and pour into a shallow container to cool to room temperature. From here you add in a beaten egg and lemon zest and carry on with the arancini recipe, as above.
A Simple Marinara Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil; 1 onion, diced; 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced; 3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tbsp dried, 1 medium carrot or ½ red pepper and 1 stalk celery – minced; 1 kg of fresh plum tomatoes, chopped OR 2 x 454 gm tins best quality chopped tomatoes (Cirio are my fav), salt to taste, sugar or honey to taste (if tomatoes are a bit bitter). I often add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar too.
Heat the oil in a medium, heavy-bottomed pan (not aluminium). Add the onion and sauté gently until onion is soft – about 5 minutes; add the garlic, thyme, carrot or pepper, and celery; continue cooking for 15 minutes, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring to the boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, until as thick as porridge; season with salt, and maybe a pinch of sugar. Cool slightly and whiz with a hand blender.You can keep this sauce in the fridge for one week or freeze in an appropriate container for 3 months.