Spinach and Cheese Arancini

One of my favorite things about risotto (other than how delicious it is, obvi) is that the leftovers can be recycled into something perhaps even more craving-worthy: arancini! These rice balls are stuffed with cheese and spinach, breaded, and pan-fried for golden brown perfection. I had extra mushroom Parmesan risotto from dinner Thursday night, and turned the leftovers into a platter of arancini for a gathering of friends on Saturday night. Using leftovers also splits up the cooking, so you don’t feel like you’ve spent all day slaving over the stove, and you can use practically any kind of risotto to make these.

These do need to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, so leave yourself time. You can make them the night before or morning of an event, and fry them up just before.

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Recipe note: makes about 30 rice balls.

Ingredients
4 cups cooked risotto
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded fontina
4 ounces baby spinach
2 tablespoons parsley
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Panko style breadcrumbs
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
Marinara sauce for dipping

Steps
In a large bowl, combine cooked risotto with eggs and stir until completely mixed. Set aside.

Heat a pan over the stove on medium high heat. Drizzle lightly with oil and add spinach. Cook until wilted, then remove from heat and pour into a strainer. Using a wooden spoon, press the spinach against the strainer to extract excess moisture. When the spinach cools, you can wring it between your hands to squeeze out extra moisture. Chop it into smaller pieces.

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In a medium bowl, stir together the spinach with the mozzarella, fontina, and parsley. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. To get set up to form the balls, pour breadcrumbs into a bowl and line a baking sheet (or platter) that will fit in your refrigerator with parchment paper.

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To form each rice ball, scoop 2 tablespoons of rice mixture into your non-dominant hand and flatten into a circle on your palm. Pinch together 1-2 teaspoons of the spinach and cheese mixture and deposit it into the middle of the circle. Close your palm and use your free hand to pinch together the rice around the cheese, forming a ball. Roll the ball in breadcrumbs and place on the baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least one hour, but not more than 24 hours.

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When you’re ready, line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towel to absorb oil from the cooked rice balls. Heat 3/4-1” of oil on medium to medium-high in a pot or a pan with high sides to minimize splatter. If you have a kitchen thermometer, aim for 350ºF.

If you don’t have a thermometer, it’s a bit of trial and error. Let the oil heat for 10 minutes and add a test rice ball: the oil should sizzle and bubble, and the rice ball should gradually turn a rich golden brown on the outside in about 3-4 minutes. If it browns very quickly after you place it in the oil, turn down the heat. If it doesn’t sizzle when you add it, turn it up.

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I like to cook them in small batches of about six, allowing me to roll and rotate each rice ball so that the exterior cooks evenly. Use a slotted spoon or rubber-tipped tongs to avoid cracking the exterior of the rice balls. When finished, place each ball on the paper towel lined sheet to drain excess oil.

Transfer to a platter and serve with heated marinara sauce for dipping – I prefer a spicy arrabbiata sauce. Enjoy!

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