Greetings from Barga, Italy! For the past several weeks I have been serving at the Community’s outreach in Tuscany, and learning about Italian food in the process. During the holidays I made one of my most favorite Italian dishes: arancini. You would be hard pressed not to find comfort in these creamy risotto balls stuffed with cheese, aside from the fact they are also breaded and deep fried…mama mia.
As with most things I’ve encountered in Italy, this dish brings a centuries-long history to the table, dating back to 10th-century Sicily. While arancini has undergone some modern interpretation over the centuries, it remains a delicious treat. Buon appetito!
Fill a saucepan, crockpot or deep fryer with 4-5 inches of oil and heat to 350 degrees, regulating frequently with a thermometer if not using a crockpot or deep fryer appliance.
Form a ball of risotto no larger than a golf ball in your hand and press it flat on a piece of wax paper. Place a mozzarella cube in the center, and close the risotto around it. Reshape into a ball if needed and set aside and repeat with remaining risotto.
Once all the risotto has been formed, gently roll in flour, then egg and finally the breadcrumbs until fully coated.
Working in batches, gently drop risotto balls into the oil, frying until the outside becomes a light golden brown color. Remove from oil and place on a cooling rack to drain excess oil.
Serve warm or with a red or white sauce of your choosing.
Our gardens are bursting at the seams with eggplants. I just love the shiny purple beauties and feel slightly sorry for the bad rap they get from opinionated palates! Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to attempt to set those opinions straight and give you some trusted recipes that will transform this ordinary vegetable into an extraordinary culinary delight.
In writing this, I am reminded of a wonderful book I read many years ago as a young Sister when I was exploring my Jewish roots. The book, To Life! by Rabbi Harold Kushner, is filled with wonderful insights into human nature and God. I underlined over and over as I read through the book. One particular quote has remained with me, the author says, “To be human is to choose to be good; to take something unholy and make it holy, something ordinary and transform it into the extraordinary. To sanctify the world and live a Godly life”.
Praying that co-working with God today will begin to make the ordinary extraordinary.
Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a heavy (non-aluminum) saucepan.
Add the onion and half of the basil, the Italian seasoning and the salt.
Allow to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Cook until the onion is translucent and then add the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, cover with a lid, and cook until the tomatoes are soft and have melted into a sauce.
Add the sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.
Continue cooking so the sauce can thicken and add tomato paste, if desired for a thicker sauce (you don’t want your sauce to be watery!).
Adjust seasonings to taste.
Cut the eggplant into slices and sprinkle with salt. Put them in a colander and leave for 30 min. while the bitter juices drain away.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry on a paper towel lined sheet pan. Mix the flour in a separate pan with some salt and pepper and lightly dust both sides of the eggplant with flour.
Heat enough olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet, or other heavy pan, and fry the eggplant in batches until golden brown on both sides (watch your heat so the oil doesn’t burn – lower is better!). Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the oil, and repeat.
To assemble: spoon a little of the tomato sauce into a 12” oven dish, or 13x9” pan. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices. Add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, then a layer of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining basil leaves. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and repeat the layers to use up the ingredients, ending with the cheese.
Put into the oven and bake for 20-30 min. or until the top is slightly golden and crusty. Cool slightly before cutting into servings. If you are using a cold, ready-made sauce, allow a little extra cooking time (if sauce is not already hot). Serve hot or at room temperature.
It works well to make this the day ahead. Cover the casserole with foil and heat in a low oven for about an hour or until heated through. This also freezes well – assemble in a pan and freeze uncooked. When ready to use, thaw, and bake as above. You will enjoy this during the winter months if you have a harvest now. Andiamo mangiare!