One kid's adventures in gastronomy

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Just don’t call them “arancini”

…because then I will not want to eat them. Now, “rice balls,” on the other hand, is so much more appealing. After all, we enjoy the idea of a food before the first bite ever reaches our mouths. Or so I’m told.

Take the little rice ball, for example. What 3-year-old worth his salt wouldn’t want to make one of those? As the name implies, arancini (Italian for “little oranges”) are little balls of rice that are breaded then fried or baked. (Often they’re made with saffron, and that, coupled with their orangish hue once breaded & fried, lends them their name.)

We happened to have leftover squash risotto, and Mama thought I might enjoy making the little balls with her. First, we set up our breading station, which includes a dish of flour, a beaten egg, and a dish of bread crumbs. I crack all the eggs in this house now.

"I didn't even break the yolk."

“I didn’t even break the yolk.”

The flour helps the egg stick to the rice ball, and the egg helps the bread crumbs stay put.

The flour helps the egg stick to the rice ball, and the egg helps the bread crumbs stay put.

And I also insist on beating the egg with a fork.

I took this photo myself.

I took this picture myself.

After this, I lost interest. I didn’t want to messy my hands in the cold risotto. Instead of helping, I raided the fridge.

Papa bough contraband strawberries out of season, much to my delight!

Papa bought contraband strawberries out of season, much to my delight!

Mama said we have to get all the balls formed before we begin the breading process, because we’re just going to get our fingers even messier once that starts.

Now we're set to start covering up those naked little rice balls with crunchy bread crumbs.

Now we’re set to start covering up those naked little rice balls with crispy bread crumbs.

To bread a ball, gently roll it in the flour, then roll it in the egg (allowing excess to drip off), then roll it in the bread crumbs. Set aside. (You don’t want to start putting them in the hot oil as you make them because they’ll cook unevenly.) Once Mama set the frying pan of oil over medium heat, she shooed me from the kitchen. But I could hear those rice balls sizzling, and the house smelled good.

Incidentally, that little scarecrow on the plate is me!

That’s a side of balsamic-roasted asparagus and portabella mushrooms.

I was eager to try one of those little guys. I really was. But to Mama’s dismay, I did not love them. I took my “no thank you” bite, said, “They are not bad,” and passed on any more. They had a nice crunch with a warm, soft center, but what can I say? I told Mama to stop calling them arancini.

Love, Jude

Arancini (“Rice Balls”)
(You totally don’t need a recipe for this, but here’s something to get you started.)

Cold risotto (plain or with “stuff” in it; we had about 1 or 2 servings left over)
2 eggs, divided (1 optional)
Bread crumbs (we tend to use panko, but use whatever you have on hand)
Canola or olive oil

Make the arancini whatever size you like, from Ping-Pong to a bit larger than golf ball size. Press the mixture into your palms, and gently form a ball. (If you’re finding that your mixture isn’t holding together well enough, lightly beat an egg and thoroughly mix it in to the rice, then try again.) Set balls aside.

Prepare 3 bowls or shallow dishes for a breading station: 1 with flour, 1 with a lightly beaten egg, and 1 with bread crumbs. Season each with salt and pepper.

Roll a ball completely in the flour, then the egg (allowing excess to drip off), then the bread crumbs. Set aside and repeat until all balls are crumbed.

Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet over medium heat. Toss a few flecks of flour into it—if they sizzle, it’s ready. Carefully add the arancini. Do not overcrowd. (Work in batches, if necessary.) Fry until golden, then turn until golden on all sides (just a couple minutes). If they’re getting overly dark, lower the heat slightly. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel. They’re hot, so be careful!

Note: Mama says some people press a tiny bit of filling inside the little ball, whether that’s ham or cooked sausage or chopped mushrooms. Experiment and have fun. (On this Mardi Gras Tuesday, maybe you can make a play on king cake and hide a petite plastic baby in one. That would be so silly!)

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Soporific Squash

You know I enjoy squash (because it’s orange). Mama tends to keep it simple—roasted and added to other things, like risotto, or mashed with sweet or savory flavors. Since squash is still so abundant right now, she tried something a little new, something that combines her two primary methods for cooking it.

First, Mama halved and seeded 2 acorn squash, smeared some olive oil on the cut sides, then sprinkled salt and pepper over them. She put them on a baking sheet, covered them with foil, and roasted them at 450ºF until they were soft and starting to caramelize, about half an hour.

In the meantime, she sautéed half a chopped onion and half a pound of finely chopped cremini mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. Somewhere along the way she added the leaves off a few sprigs of thyme and some salt and pepper. When the mushrooms and onion were tender and browned, she added 1 cup rice (she happened to have basmati on hand, which is easy enough) and sautéed that for a couple minutes to give the rice a nutty flavor. Then, just when the pan seemed like it was about to dry out, she added 2 cups homemade vegetable stock (chicken stock also would have worked). She brought it all to a boil, covered it, then reduced the heat and simmered it until the rice absorbed the liquid and was tender, about 20 minutes. You might recognize this as the pilaf method, and it sure makes for some tasty rice.

When everything was cooked, Mama carefully spooned the flesh out of the squash shells and added it to the skillet of rice and mushrooms. She said if she wanted to make it look fancy, she would have loaded up the shells with the mixture, but as it was just us, she glopped a big ol’ portion on our plates. (This is why there’s no picture. You probably wouldn’t want to eat it either.) Then she grated some Parmesan on top.

I was reticent at first, because this didn’t look like any squash I’ve eaten before, but Mama reminded me about my “no thank you” bite. I’m sure glad she did, though, because this was quite tasty! The roasted squash flavor was subtle, and the rice gave it body and texture. I didn’t even mind the mushrooms, as I’m still hit or miss on those. Mama ate this for dinner, along with steamed mixed veggies, and Papa and I added pork to our dinners. I really just wanted to eat the squash and the veggies, though.

I don’t know what else Mama might have snuck into that dish because after dinner, I went on the kitchen floor to play with my cars…and I didn’t get up. I fell fast asleep right where I played, much like those Flopsy Bunnies. I suspect Mama might be giving me the squash again tonight….

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out.

To be fair, I refused to nap today, so that might have played a part in my passing out mid-play.

Love, Jude