This photo is a wonderful serving bowl full of “arancini” — fried rice balls — that were one of my childhood favorites. Nonna didn’t make these often because, after all, they weren’t pasta! But I adored them and could eat an amazing quantity, even as a small child.
Nonna’s recipe was very simple — and of course, devoid of measurements. Cook the rice, chill it overnight (not Uncle Ben’s because it wasn’t sticky enough). Mix in several beaten eggs and a good amount of grated cheese (Romano or Parmesan). Form the rice into an orange-sized ball in your palm, and in the middle add a small mound of chopped mozzarella, cooked baby peas and finely chopped ham. Cover over with more rice mixture. Coat with seasoned breadcrumbs and fry tenderly in olive oil (or half olive oil, half Crisco) to come half-way up the rice balls in a heavy skillet. Turn often till they look perfect. Drain on brown paper grocery bags (even though I now carry re-usable ones, I store several paper ones for just this purpose). Serve either with tomato sauce or plain. Just delicious!
The first, second, third, and fourth times I made arancini, they fell apart in the oil and made a mess — but still delicious. I tried a stickier rice, and it helped a little Then I tried making them more like croquettes. Then I tried converting them to a rice/cheese casserole. Now, armed with some new ideas, I’m going to try the original form again.
Over the years I found out that Nonna — while she never forgot how to make a dish — sometimes forgot to share an ingredient or a step. I’m going to try to roll the rice ball in egg-whites before breading to see if they hold together better. I suspect that this might be the missing step. I’ll let you know.