These are just a lazy woman’s version of arancini, the Italian risotto balls that I make — for real — every Christmas Eve so that my poor husband J. can have something familiar on the table as the rest of us are enjoying our Swedish smorgasbord. Real arancini require a few steps, including chilling the rice mixture so that it will hold its shape when you roll it into balls. When I’m trying to throw together something for lunchboxes, I don’t like extra steps, so I skip the chilling part — and the rice balls become rice cakes. No matter. They taste the same.
I make arancini, or arancini cakes, every so often for the boys’ lunches, and in all different varieties. Sometimes I add chopped chicken to the mixture, sometimes I stir in diced spinach, and every time the kids eat them up with no hesitation. This version is a simple one that can be stuffed with just cheese, as I’ve done, or with cheese and bits of ham or prosciutto. The key here is to use LEFTOVER risotto. If you’re making risotto specifically for the purpose of then turning it into these cakes for lunches, you’re going way above and beyond the call of duty. Instead, make a big batch of risotto to eat for dinner one night, and THEN use the leftover portion for this recipe.
1 cup leftover risotto, any variety
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 oz. mozzarella or provolone cheese, diced into eight pieces
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup oil of your choice, for pan-frying the cakes
In a medium bowl, mix together the risotto, egg, and parmesan cheese. On a large shallow plate, mix the breadcrumbs and salt.
To make the cakes, take about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture and roll into a rough ball. Press a cube of mozzarella cheese into the middle and push the rice around it to seal it. Roll the ball in the breadcrumb mixture and set aside on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining mixture — you should end up with 8 little mounds.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until a few breadcrumbs dropped into the skillet sizzle gently. Drop the risotto mounds carefully into the hot oil; they’ll begin to flatten out on their own. Cook until golden brown all the way around, flipping carefully halfway through. Remove to a paper towel to drain.
Easy Zucchini Risotto
This is the risotto recipe I used last time I made these cakes, and it worked out beautifully. It’s a great use for an overabundance of zucchini, too.
1 cup arborio rice
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup white wine (you could use extra stock in its place, or part stock and part white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 egg yolks, preferably from pastured eggs
Heat the chicken stock to a simmer. Keep the stock simmering gently on the stovetop throughout the cooking process; you’ll need it.
In a large, wide skillet over medium heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Add the rice to the skillet and stir for 1-2 minutes. Then add the white wine and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the zucchini to the rice mixture and pour in about a cup of the warm stock. Stir gently and consistently as the rice absorbs most of the stock. When almost all of the liquid is gone, add another 1/2 cup of broth. Continue stirring and adding stock this way, until the rice is cooked through and you’ve used up all the stock. You want to keep the rice slightly loose and moist.
Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Remove it from the heat and add the egg yolks, stirring quickly to incorporate them into the rice without scrambling them. Keep stirring vigorously for about a full minute to be sure that the yolks cook in the hot rice but don’t turn into clumps. The egg yolks will add richness and body to this simple risotto — you could omit them, but I think they really add something special to the dish.