Arancini di Riso

My daughter recently returned from holiday in Milan, raving about the Arancini di Riso.

Arancini di Riso are actually Sicilian in origin: stuffed saffron rice balls, usually filled with meat, mozzarella and peas. As my daughter is a great mushroom lover, I decided to create my own version in her honour. And in all modesty I am mighty pleased with the result.

The name means ‘little oranges’ in Italian, and refers to their shape and colour after cooking. They are quite exacting and time-consuming to make, but the result is heavenly.

I like to serve them with a piquant tomato sauce.

Ingredients (makes 8 arancini di riso):

15g butter

45ml olive oil
1 onion, chopped
250g risotto rice
1 pinch of saffron
100ml Pinot Grigio (or other Italian dry white wine)
1l vegetable stock
35g parmesan cheese
1 tsp lemon juice
25g carrot, finely chopped
25g celery, finely chopped
150g mixed mushrooms
10g dried porcini mushrooms
15g parsley
50g frozen pea
400g tinned tomatoes
75g buffalo mozzarella
25g plain flour
2 eggs
50g breadcrumbs
sunflower oil fro frying


  • Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the 15ml of oil. Add half the chopped onion and sweat for 5 minutes or so until the onion is soft but not browned.
  • Increase the heat to medium and add the rice. Sauté for about 5 minutes stirring constantly. Add the saffron and stir again.
  • Add the wine and stir occasionally until it is absorbed.
  • Add the stock, a ladle at a time and stir it into the rice. Allow it to become absorbed before adding the next ladle. The rice is cooked when it is slightly al dente, but NOT chalky. This will probably take about 30 minutes, and might not require all the stock.
  • Stir in the parmesan cheese and lemon juice and allow the rice to cool.
  • While the rice is cooling, soak the porcini in a little hot water. Chop the mixed mushrooms small (duxelles sized), place in the centre of a clean tea towel, gather the corners of the tea towel together, and twist to expel as much liquid from the mushrooms as possible, collecting the liquid in a bowl.
  • Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan, and add the onion, celery and carrot and sauté gently for about 5 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms from the tea towel into the frying pan. Increase the heat, and sauté for a further 10 minutes or so until the mushrooms start to brown.
  • Drain and chop the porcini, reserving the soaking liquid. Add to the frying pan along with the soaking liquid, and add the liquid squeezed out of the mushrooms.
  • Now add the tomatoes (chop them small if they are whole), peas and half the parsley. Adjust the seasoning, and simmer for about 15 minutes, adding any remaining vegetable stock or water as necessary to prevent the mixture from becoming too dry.
  • Add the remaining parsley and allow to cool.
  • To assemble the arancini, divide the rice into 8 equal portions and shape into balls . Divide the mushroom mixture into 8 equal portions.
  • Take a rice ball and make a hollow in the centre with your index finger. Fill the hollow with the mushroom mixture, and add about 1/8 of the mozzarella. Seal the rice around the mushroom mixture.
  • Dust the ball with flour, and make the remaining 7 arancini the same way.
  • Beat the eggs and add to a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs to a separate bowl. Dip each arancini in beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs.
  • Heat a generous quantity of sunflower oil in a deep pan. Deep fry the arancini, a few at a time until golden (about minutes). Drain any surplus oil on kitchen paper.


Meat substitutes

During a recent trip to the supermarket, I encountered a promotion for a company specialised in meat substitutes of various kinds (the name of the company translates to ‘the vegetarian butcher‘ in English.)

Normally I try to avoid such promotions and feel a a frisson of excitement if I successfully dodge out of the way. This time it was early in the morning; there was no one else around so I was rather a sitting duck.

The cheerful sales person wearing a green and white apron ( she was also wearing a skirt and blouse) asked me if I realised that 90% of the population eats more meat than was healthy for them. I replied that I certainly did realise now. Then came the inevitable question,: how much and what sort of meat did I eat. I knew that saying I was vegetarian would not let me off the hook.

Indeed, the sales person beamed with delight and said that in that case I must be familiar with vegetarian butcher products, and what did I think of them? My reply that I had never tried them delighted her even more.

Vainly I tried to explain that I was vegetarian because I did not like the taste of meat, so what was the point of buying a substitute for something I did not like?

I ended up persuaded to try a pack of vegetarian minced beef, and a pack of smoked vegetarian bacon lardons. I vaguely toyed of with the idea of dumping them elsewhere in the supermarket in cowardly fashion, but then it came to me: why not road test the meat substitutes and blog my findings! So here we go.

At home I decided to make Spaghetti Bolognese. Unpacking the mince substitute, the first thing that struck me was the colour. Instead of the bright crimson of fresh minced beef, it was unattractive pinky beige strings that  looked like a packet of earthworms. I poked gingerly with a fork and was surprised how bouncy it was.

Then I turned my attention to the bacon substitute. The lardons were perfectly regular solid rectangles of equal size and brown in colour. They were also surprisingly bouncy.

The bacon substitute was £2.99/$3.95/€3.49 for 150g, the mince £2.59/$3.39/€2.99 for 200g. The bacon especially stuck me as quite pricy.

Now to the cooking.

I hard fried 50g of bacon substitute in olive oil. Because it contained no fat it did not reduce in volume significantly, and did not go very brown. I regretted not chopping it smaller.

I repeated with 200g of mince substitute with pretty much the same result.

I browned 1/2 a finely chopped onion, and an equal weight of finely chopped carrot and celery in olive oil.

I added this to a heavy bottomed saucepan along with the meat substitutes, 75ml dry white wine, 150ml water, 20g tomato puree, chopped parsley and 1/2 bayleaf, and simmered the mixture for 40 minutes, then tasted.

The result was not to die for. Taste wise, the flavours had not really mingled, and the smoked bacon substitute was overpowering. But it was the texture that really let it down; it was still really bouncy! Like I had used marinated school rubbers. I added more water and simmered for a further 30 minutes, The result was still disappointing.

I served it with spaghettini, with plenty of fresh parmesan grated over the top, and a good crisp side salad, but none of this disguised the bland flavour and bouncy texture.

My conclusion is, meat substitutes are probably not worth the money. I far prefer my version of Spaghetti Bolognese made wth portobello mushrooms.

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