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I don’t know if you can tell, but I get really excited about food. It’s not just the end product, the delicious thing I get to put in my mouth that does so much more than just nourish my body. It’s the process, too, the learning and doing and standing in the kitchen, working with my hands, listening to things sizzle and pop, my glasses steaming up as I open the oven door.

I had some amazing kale and taleggio arancini during the kale party at Verjus a couple of weeks ago, and they were stellar. Perfectly prepared balls of rice and cheese and vegetal kale, deep-fried to a golden brown and served with a salty-sweet bacon compote. It’s a dish that makes sense — you know by reading the description that there’s no way that this could be bad, and chef Braden Perkins didn’t disappoint.

The plate cost €8, a steal for such high-caliber food. And yet, and still. There was something missing. I didn’t make it myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love dining out, and I know my skill in the kitchen can’t match a trained chef’s, but… but what? I guess I miss the challenge. How extremely clever I feel whenever a dish turns out just how I wanted it to. I wanted to be the one whipping out those perfect arancini with that sticky, perfectly paired sauce. So I came home and made some.

And yes, I felt extremely clever.

Arancini

Inspired by the kale arancini at Verjus.

Makes 10-12 arancini.

Ingredients
2 cups leftover mushroom risotto or any other leftover risotto, cold
10-12 approximately 1cm pieces of mozzarella
2 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
2 cups bread crumbs
oil for frying

Directions

Scoop a golf ball-sized amount of the leftover risotto onto clean hands. Flatten the risotto into a disc, then press a piece of mozzarella into the center. Form a ball out of the risotto around the piece of mozzarella and set aside. Repeat with the rest of your risotto and mozzarella.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a small bowl and set up another bowl with the bread crumbs. Dip each risotto ball into the egg mixture, followed by the bread crumbs, making sure that each one is completely coated with crumbs. Set aside until ready to fry.

Pour enough oil into a heavy saucepan to reach a depth of at least 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until it is 350°F, or until a cube of bread tossed into the oil begins to bubble and brown immediately.

Working in batches, add a couple of rice balls to the hot oil at a time and cook until the bread crumbs are brown and the rice balls are completely heated through. Remove the arancini with a slotted spoon or spider to drain on paper towels. Serve hot with Bacon Brown Sugar Compote.

Notes

I wanted to do try making these the traditional way, so I deep fried them the first time. However, if you want a lighter option (or just don’t want to use up as much oil as deep frying requires), you can bake these in the oven instead. Heat your oven to 375°F (190°C), line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and place your breaded arancini on the parchment. Spray heavily with olive oil or cooking spray and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the arancini are hot all the way through and the bread crumbs are golden brown.

Cooked arancini can be kept in a very low oven for up to 20 minutes to keep them hot before serving. Be careful, though, as they will start to leak mozzarella if the oven is too hot or if you keep them in there too long.

You can make these ahead of time by completing the directions up to the breading step, then refrigerating or freezing the arancini until you intend to cook them. Thaw completely before cooking.

Bacon Brown Sugar Compote

Inspired by the bacon shallot balsamic jam at Verjus.

Makes about 1/4 cup.

Ingredients
1/4 cup bacon, cut into lardons
2 teaspoons balsamic reduction
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons caramelized onions
2 tablespoons water

Directions

Place the bacon lardons in a small saucepan. Turn the heat on to low and begin to cook the bacon until some of the fat has been rendered, but the bacon is not yet fully cooked or crispy. Drain about half the fat from the bacon and add the rest of the ingredients. Continue to cook on low for about 30 minutes, adding a spoonful or two of water as necessary if the mixture looks too dry and starts sticking to the bottom of the pan. The compote is done when it has a preserve-like texture. Serve on top of arancini.

Music to cook by: Lose Your Soul [Dead Man’s Bones // Dead Man’s Bones]

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