Pesto Arancini

Arancini are rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese, coated in bread crumbs, and then deep fried  — how can you not love that combination.  These scrumptious appetizers are originally from Sicily.  Suppli’ al telefono is another name for arancini but suppli’ is native to Rome and is generally filled with a ragu sauce, mozzarella cheese, and peas.
Many times, understanding the Italian meaning of a name can give you insight into how the dish is supposed to look, taste, or be made.  This is certainly true for arancini and suppli' al telefono. In Italian, arancini literally means “little oranges,” which totally describe the look of the deep fried rice balls. The meaning of the other name, suppli' al telefono, provides even more insight into how they should look and be made. According to Wikipedia, suppli’ is the Italianized version of the French word for surprise. This is a perfect description for the delicious gooey cheese that’s hidden in the center of the rice ball. In addition, if your suppli’ are made correctly, then when bitten in half and pulled apart, the cheese in the center forms long strings which resemble telephone wires.  Hence the name “suppli’ al telefono.”
Ok enough about the name. I love arancini, have had them many times in restaurants, but only have made them twice in my life. The best arancini that I’ve ever had was at Bottega, Michael Chiarello’s restaurant in Yountville, CA. So even though I’m not a huge Michael Chiarello fan anymore (due to the two sexual harassment lawsuits against him), I couldn’t wait to try to make his pesto arancini, which are simply divine. 
My version of his arancini, I have to say, were restaurant quality delicious, however, I had one major problem.  The cheese in the middle of the arancini did not melt so there was no characteristic cheesy "telephone wire."  What went wrong?  First, I preheated my oil to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, a higher temperature than what the recipe called for. This could have potentially caused the balls to cook faster on the outside than on the inside.  Second, to help keep the balls from falling apart in the hot oil, the recipe calls for you to place the rice balls in the freezer for 30 minutes before deep frying. I’m not entirely sure this step is necessary if you are using actual creamy risotto (made with parmesan cheese) instead of cooked Arborio rice (without any added cheese). That said, I will definitely have to make these again soon to test my theory and to redeem myself. 
Risotto recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated: The Best Italian Classics
Pesto recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello: At Home With Michael Chiarello: Easy Entertaining
Pesto Arancini recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello: Bottega




For the Risotto:

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 3 cups water
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

For the Pesto:

  • 3 cups lightly packed fresh basil
  • 1 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup pure olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the Arancini:

  • 1-1/2 cup blanched-basil pesto
  • 3 cups risotto, cooled
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • peanut oil



Step 1: For the risotto, bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to keep the broth warm.
Step 2: Add the butter to saute pan over medium hear.  Add onion, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. 
Step 3: Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges of the grains are transparent, about 4 minutes.
Step 4: Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits, until the wine is completely absorbed by the rice, about 2 minutes. 
Step 5: Add 3 cups of the warm broth and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring infrequently (about every 3 minutes), until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 10 to 12 minutes.
Step 6: Continue to cook, stirring frequently and adding more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, every 3 to 4 minutes as needed to keep the pan bottom from drying out, until the grains of rice are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cover. Set aside.
Step 7: For the pesto, prepare a bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the basil and parsley in a sieve and plunge it into the boiling water, pushing the leaves down into the water and stirring them so they blanch evenly. Blanch for 15 seconds, then plunge the herbs into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain immediately, squeeze the herbs dry, and roughly chop.
Step 8: In a food processor, puree the herbs with the oil, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. When well blended, add the cheese and pulse briefly just to mix.
Step 9: Transfer to a bowl and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.
Step 10: For the arancini, Line a platter with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir the 3 cups of the risotto and blanched basil pesto together until blended.
Step 11: Divide the rice into 16 more-or-less-equal portions.
Step 12: 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.
Step 13: Slide the platter into the freezer for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up.
Step 14: 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.
Step 15: 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.
Step 16: 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.
Step 17: 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.
Step 18: Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer the arancini to paper towels to drain. Repeat to cook the remaining arancini. Serve at once.


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