Hot food: Arancini

Jill Dupleix
Loved by young and old: Arancini.
Loved by young and old: Arancini. Photo: James Brickwood

What are they?

Fried risotto balls stuffed with a little extra something, such as a cube of mozzarella or a spoonful of meat ragu. The original Sicilian version resembled small golden oranges (arancia means orange), although other regions in Italy form the rice into cones or oblongs.

Where are they?

NSW

Wherever there is good trattoria food - which means almost everywhere at the moment. ''I can't believe how popular they are'' says Mauro Marcucci of the swish new Baccomatto in Surry Hills. ''We call them suppli, as the Romans do, and stuff them with ragu and mozzarella. They're just a lovely little snack, perfect with an Aperol spritzer.''

Arancini are always on the menu at Jamie Oliver's Italian, where they are referred to as ''crispy stuffed risotto balls'', stuffed with smoked mozzarella and porcini mushrooms. As the boy wonder himself says in his Jamie's Italy cookbook, ''Just about every Italian housewife has her own special recipe for arancini. They can be stuffed with meat sauce and cheese, just cheese, cheese and ham, and even chocolate, using a sweet version of risotto.'' The trick, according to exec chef David Clarke is to make sure the risotto is well-seasoned and cooked through, not al dente.

Chef Angel Fernandez of the new Cipro a Taglio in Alexandria, fills his perfectly, magically, round arancini with peas and provolone or with pork ragu and stringy, gooey mozzarella. ''Who doesn't like a tasty little cheesy meaty fried morsel?'' says Fernandez. ''You should be able to buy them from carts in George Street.'' His tip? ''Roll the arancini in egg white rather than whole beaten egg, for extra crispness.''

VICTORIA

At Bar Idda in Brunswick East, a single, conical arancino is made of golden saffron risotto, stuffed with beef and pork ragu, peas, mozzarella and a soft-boiled egg that's set but still gently runny. "People just love it," manager Margarita Sollei says. "We sell millions of them."

At the elegant bacaro (bar) at Cafe Di Stasio in St Kilda, the crisp, golden arancini are two-bite size, with a little bolognese ragu inside. "Some arancini can be like sawdust inside," manager Mallory Wall says. "These are juicy and squidgy; little tasty things that are good with a whisky sour, a negroni or a flute of champagne."

At Ombra Salumi Bar in Bourke Street, head chef James Vardis puts arancini in thewindow at midday as a little snack to have with a glass of wine or a coffee. "The filling changes because the idea is that we just use what we have," he says. "Today it's leek and fennel."

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Vardis suggests that arancini are popular because they're easily recognisable as comfort food. "My son comes in and has one, my wife comes in and has one. Everyone loves them because they're crispy outside and soft inside."

Why do I care?

Because they are loved by young and old; because they are easy to make; and because they are a good use of leftovers.

Can I do it at home?

Make more risotto than you need. Refrigerate the leftovers overnight, then roll the rice into balls, coat in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and pan fry, bake or deep fry.

Sourcing

NSW

Baccomatto, 212 Riley Street, Surry Hills (02) 9215 5140

Cipro a Taglio, 27 Fountain Street, Alexandria (02) 9698 4183

Jamie's Italian, 107 Pitt Street, Sydney (02) 8240 9000

VICTORIA

Bar Di Stasio, 31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, (03) 9525 3999.

Bar Idda, 132 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, (03) 9380 5339.

Ombra Salumi Bar, 76 Bourke Street, Melbourne, (03) 9639 1927.

Arancini

If you don't want to deep fry, you can pan fry the arancini in a little oil until crisp and finish the cooking in a hot oven for 10 minutes.

500g cold, cooked risotto

100g fior di latte mozzarella, cut into 2cm cubes

Half cup leftover ragu or stew

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups fine breadcrumbs

Oil for deep frying

Freshly grated parmesan for serving

1. Take 40 grams to 50 grams of risotto and roll into a ball in your hands. Poke your finger into the centre, stuff in a little mozzarella and ragu, and close up the hole. (You can do up to this stage beforehand then refrigerate until needed.) Roll each ball in beaten eggs, then in breadcrumbs until coated.

2. Heat the oil until it turns a small cube of bread nicely brown in about 30 seconds. Fry the arancini in small batches for 4 minutes to 5 minutes or until golden. Drain and serve with a little extra grated parmesan.

Makes 10 to 12

TRENDING Honeycomb. It's taking over from the macaron as the crunch du jour. Spotted at Sweetness The Patisserie, Epping, and (chocolate-coated) at Penny Fours, Leichhardt; and in Melbourne at Chin Chin in Flinders Lane: palm sugar ice-cream sundae with salted honeycomb and lime syrup.