Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Arancini are from Sicily and they are fried little packages of rice with a surprise in the middle. We ate them on our vacation in Sicily two years ago and I thought what a fantastic lunch when you are on the go. In fact on further research I discovered that they were taken on hunting trips or long journeys by royal courts and eventually became a tradition for peasants working in the country. Whatever the origin, they seem to be a part of the daily routine of Sicilians now. On our vacation, the old men would show up at all the mom and pop delis for an afternoon snack. They are impressive to serve. Once my friend Carrie was at a dinner party here in Tuscany and when they brought out the arancini for the appetizer everyone made the ohhs and ahhs of a fireworks display.

Despite being mocked by a Sicilian once for making arancini this way, I still think this is the perfect way to use leftover risotto so I'm going to do it. Besides, other Italians do this, just apparently not if you are Sicilian. I once sat by a Sicilian man on the the train from Milan to Florence and he walked me through step by step how to make proper Sicilian Arancini. It took the whole train ride. They were a failure. The ones I made two weeks ago with leftover risotto were perfect and so much easier.

The classic filling is ragu and peas but you can put mozzerella and basil, spinach and mozzerella, just mozzerella. It works out perfect if you have some leftover ragu and you can just pop that in the middle of your leftover risotto! There is really no recipe to write down. You just take a ball of your leftover risotto in your hand and make an indent in the middle. (It helps to wet your hand first) Push your filling in the middle then close the rice around the filling so it is smooth and there are no holes in the risotto casing. Then dip the arancino into beaten egg, flour, back into the egg and then into very fine bread crumbs. You can form them into round balls or into more of a cone shape like the picture below.  Deep fry until they are golden all over about 4 minutes. If you have a fear of frying like I do see my tips on the Caponata post. I was so excited when mine turned out that I did a little dance. My boys were not impressed, but they are young teens so I don't even try to impress them right now.  I think you, however,  will be delighted with the results!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Risotto alla Zucca (Pumpkin)

I can hardly resist the beautiful pieces of pumpkin during the Fall and Winter as I pass through the markets. When I saw a piece in the market a few weeks ago, instead of thinking about the pasta I usually make with pumpkin, risotto stuck in my mind. This risotto is fantastic served as a first course then with Roast Beef and your favorite side for the second! Personally a big plate of risotto for the main course proves to be a bit much for me and anyway I feel obligated to tell you that it isn't the Italian way.

The fantastic thing about risotto, is that it is so versatile that you can use whatever is in season. In the Fall and Winter: Pumpkin, Cavolo Nero, Radicchio, Porcini Mushrooms, White and Black Truffles, Quail. In the Spring: Asparagus, Artichokes, Sausage and Peas, fava and even nettles! Of course there is the classic Saffron Risotto for anytime along with risotto bianco (with parmesan), then clam, lobster, or shrimp risotto. And finally for a really special occasion (like my husbands birthday which is in 5 days shhhh!) risotto with Barolo wine and Castelmagno cheese (from the Piemonte region). That's enough to keep me cooking for a year!

The other fantastic thing about risotto is that you can use what is leftover to make Arancini. Arancini are from Sicily and they are, like many things from Sicily, fried. They have rice on the outside and are traditionally stuffed with ragu on the inside but I also like mozzarella with basil. It's the perfect snack or appetizer and I'll post the recipe as soon as I'm done with this one so you can use your leftover pumpkin risotto.

Which leads me to why I began this post: Risotto alla Zucca! If you haven't read the post on "About Risotto" it would be helpful to do so before attempting this for the first time.

8-10 cups chicken stock (homemade or very high quality)
3 or more Tablespoons olive oil (or butter if you like)
1 onion (yellow or white) chopped very fine
cerca 2 cups pumpkin flesh grated or chopped
2 cups Vialone Nano Rice or Canaroli are the best (if not then other short grained rice like Arborio)
1/2 cup white wine
Nutmeg (nutmeg grated on top is best)
salt and pepper to taste

Before you start, rid yourself of any stress so the risotto doesn't absorb it. Put your stock on the stove to heat next to your risotto pan. Once it comes to a boil turn it down to a simmer.

Begin with the soffritto. Put a heavy bottomed pan that distributes heat well on a medium high heat. Add your olive oil and when it is sufficiently hot add the onion. After a minute, add half of the pumpkin. Cook about 5 minutes but don't let the mixture brown, just soften. IF needed add a little more oil.

Next the tostatura. Add the rice and stir around to "toast". After a minute or so when the rice has heated and turned started to turn translucent on the edges, add the wine. Let evaporate completely.

Now start adding the hot stock a ladleful at a time while stirring the rice calmly. When each ladleful of stock is almost evaporated, add the next. After about 10 minutes add the rest of the pumpkin. Keep adding stock and stirring. This whole process should take around 17-20 minutes. At the end of this time period, add smaller portions of stock and start tasting. When it is still a little al dente (firm to the bite) pull it off the heat and let it rest while you get the cold butter out of the fridge.

Now you are ready for the mancatura. Beat the butter and grated parmesan cheese into the risotto while pulling the pan vigorously towards you. If it is too dry add more stock. If it is too wet, well then, there is always next time.

Serve immediamente with grated nutmeg on top.