Arancini are a traditional Sicilian dish made up from risotto which is coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. If you have time, it is best to make the risotto up the day before and allow it to cool in the fridge overnight – it makes shaping them into balls and coating them in breadcrumbs easier. This version is stuffed with fontina cheese, but you could use mozzarella instead, and served with a delicious fresh Salsa Verde. They make the perfect nibble to go alongside an Italian Negroni Spagliato.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the diced butternut squash onto a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Place the tray into the preheated oven and roast for 20 minutes until the squash is tender and golden.
In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 30g butter until they are melted and foaming. Add the finely chopped onion and a generous pinch of Maldon salt. Gently fry the onion over a low heat until they turn translucent and soft, without catching or going golden. Next add the crushed garlic and chopped sage and fry this for an additional 3 minutes.
Next add the arborio rice and stir into the onions and garlic so the grains are well coated. Fry for a couple of minutes before adding the white wine. Allow the white wine to bubble and be absorbed by the rice. Once the wine is absorbed begin adding the hot vegetable stock a ladle at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next. The rice should be tender but still with a little bite.
Take half the roasted butternut squash and place into a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth. Add the pureed butternut squash to the risotto and heat through until smooth and creamy. Now add the roasted butternut cubes and stir them through. It is important to season the risotto well, adding a good pinch of Maldon salt and cracked black pepper – taste to check. Finally, take the risotto off the heat and add the 10g butter, stirring through to give a glossy finish. Set aside and allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge for at least 1 hour (it is best to do this the day before and leave in the fridge overnight).
Once the risotto has been in the fridge, it is time to shape and roll the arancini balls. Take some risotto and flatten in the palm of your hand, then place a small chunk of fontina cheese in the middle before closing your palm and shaping the risotto around the cheese. Press firmly and roll the risotto into a ball just slightly smaller than a golf ball. Place this on to a baking tray and repeat with the remaining risotto and cheese.
Take 3 bowls. In one bowl add the plain flour and then season it with Maldon salt and cracked black pepper, mixing in well. In the second bowl add the egg and beat it. In the third bowl add the panko breadcrumbs. You want to coat the arancini balls in this order, starting with the flour and tapping off any excess, then the beaten egg and finally the panko – making sure to press the breadcrumbs in well. Repeat until all the balls are coated and then place them in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the salsa Verde. In a food processor add the olive oil and herbs and pulse together until they are roughly chopped but not completely smooth. Tip this into a bowl and add the chopped capers, cornichons, mustard, red wine vinegar and some Maldon salt and cracked black pepper. Stir until combined and set aside.
Place some oil into a large high sided pan so it is at least 3 inches deep. Heat it until it reaches 160C and then you are ready to fry. Fry the arancini for 2 – 3 minutes until they are golden brown and crisp on the outside, you may need to do this in small batches. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider and place onto a tray or plate with some kitchen paper so it can absorb any excess oil.
When all the arancini are fried serve them warm on a platter with the salsa Verde to dip. These are perfect alongside a sparkling bitter-citrus Negroni Spagliato.