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Arancini
These fried stuffed rice balls, called arancini, or "little oranges," in Italian (due to their shape), are found all over Italy but are especially favored in the south, where oranges are a major crop. Available both in restaurants and at street stands, arancini are delicious either piping hot or at room temperature. At home, they make a satisfying first course. If you like, make them even smaller and pass them on appetizer trays. The best way to work with the sticky rice mixture is to use one hand for holding and shaping the rice, while keeping the other hand somewhat clean for handling the spoon.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 lb. ground veal and/or pork
  • 1 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup shelled fresh English peas
  • 1 cup meat stock
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups Baldo or Arborio rice
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 Tbs. warm water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup fine dried bread crumbs

Directions:

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the onion, celery and carrot and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the meat, breaking it up, and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the peas, stock, tomato paste and parsley, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the variety. Drain and spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.

Preheat an oven to 200°F.

In a small bowl, beat 3 of the eggs. Place the cooled rice in another bowl and add the beaten eggs, the cheese and the saffron mixture. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Place a large spoonful of the rice mixture in your palm, pack it lightly and make an indentation in the center. Place a tablespoonful of the meat mixture in the indentation. Cover the meat with another large spoonful of rice, sealing the meat in the center. Pack firmly into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Set aside.

In a small, deep bowl, beat the remaining 3 eggs. Put the flour and bread crumbs into separate small, deep bowls. Coat each rice ball with flour, then with egg and then crumbs. Set aside.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, pour in oil to a depth of 1 inch and heat until the oil shimmers. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep the rice balls warm in the oven while frying the remaining balls. Serve immediately. Makes about 24 balls; serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Risotto, by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Simon & Schuster, 2002).