It’s fair to say that I like a good risotto. In fact, it’s one of my favourite dishes to cook. But as much as I like risotto, I LOVE arancini. So when I make risotto, I make lots of risotto, and then I make arancini. I’ve been pretty short on time lately, and cooking and eating well have been a bit of a struggle. So making up a big batch of risotto with a view to using the leftovers for arancini was very appealing. I started with a pumpkin risotto.
Many, many years, I used to work at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets in Canberra. I was massively underpaid and my boss was a passive-aggressive, manipulative, micro-managing control freak. Not my favourite job I’ve ever had. But the also market had Cooking Coordinates, a kitchenware shop with a pretty decent cooking school attached. Sometimes I’d get to attend the cooking classes in exchange for waitressing and cleaning. It was hard work, but there were some great classes.
One of the standouts for me was Matthew Evans‘ risotto class. We’re talking years ago, way before he was a Tasmanian farmer with his own TV show. I still have the recipes from all the classes I went to, carefully filed in display folders. The plastic sleeve holding Matthew Evans’ Zucchini Flower Risotto recipe is covered in splatters. I don’t think I’ve ever made a zucchini flower risotto, but I’ve used that recipe for a risotto base so many times I don’t need to pull it out any more. I pulled it out just now because I wanted to make sure I was accurate when I quoted Evens’ description of “creamy grains of short grain rice [that] cling together like long lost lovers”. I think of that description every time I make risotto.
I don’t adore risotto quite as much as Evans, but like him, I thoroughly enjoy the process of cooking it. The simplicity, the ‘meditative stirring’, the excuse to open a bottle of wine and savour a glass while cooking. It’s one of my favourite dishes to make.
1 medium pumpkin (I used butternut)
1 tblspn butter
1 tblspn olive oil
1 clove garlic
500g arborio rice
1 glass white wine
4 cups vegetable stock, hot
A good bunch of baby spinach
100g parmesan, grated
Juice of half a lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Peel and de-seed the pumpkin, and cut into bite-sized pieces. You need to cook it before you start the rice – I roasted it for about 20 minutes at 200 C, but you could also steam until just tender.
While the pumpkin is cooking, you can start on the risotto.
Put a large pan over low heat and add the butter and oil.
Finely chop the onion and garlic. Cook until translucent and beginning to soften, but not brown. Add the rice, and stir to coat each grain with oil. When the rice is translucent, turn up the heat, splosh in the wine, and stir until it is absorbed. Now start adding the stock, about half a cup at a time. Turn the heat down, and stir constantly, until each addition is absorbed. When I say constantly, you can leave it for a few minutes, but the stirring works to release the starches and develop the creaminess. Keep adding stock until the rice is almost cooked (when it’s ready, the grains should be soft in the centre, but not mushy).
Roughly mash half the cooked pumpkin. Add the mashed pumpkin and the chunks to the risotto and stir through. Stir in the spinach and let it wilt. Turn off the heat, add the parmesan and the lemon juice. Stir through, then cover and allow to stand for a few minutes. Taste and season accordingly.
Serve with a big salad and enjoy. But make sure you kept plenty of leftovers for arancini.
Giant Pumpkin Arancini
The day after your risotto, gather together the following (quantities will depend on how much leftovers you have):
Leftover pumpkin risotto, cold
Mozzaralla, cut into chunks
Flour, seasoned to taste (I used salt, pepper, and a little bit of chilli powder)
1-2 eggs, beaten with a dash of milk
Grab a handful of the cold risotto and form roughly into ball. The size is up to you – I usually make my arancini about ping-pong ball size, but decided to go for big ones this time. If you have big chunks of stuff in your risotto, go bigger; if not, you can go smaller.
Press one or two chunks of cheese into the middle of the ball, covering over with rice. The cheese should be completely encased in the rice. Roll between your palms to create a smooth ball. Keep going until you have used up all the risotto.
Next, the crumbing!
Set up three plates in the following order:
1. Seasoned flour
2. Egg mix
3. Bread crumbs
First, roll the arancini balls in the flour to coat. Shake off any excess.
Second, dip the floured balls in the egg mix, ensuring they’re wet all over.
Third, roll the balls in the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re evenly covered.
You can either fry or bake the arancini. I decided to bake these ones. Arrange the arancini balls on a greased baking tray so they’re not touching. Lightly spray each ball all over with olive oil. Bake for around 20 minutes at 200 C. The balls should be a lovely golden brown, and full of delicious melty cheese.
I served them with a simple salad of lettuce, tomato and fetta dressed with olive oil and balsamic. Yum!