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Spinach Arancini

Creamy rice laced with bright green spinach, stuffed with a cheese center, and coated and fried—spinach arancini might just be Sicilian culinary heaven. For ease of handling and home frying, this recipe keeps the balls smaller than the typical pear size and shape you find in Sicilian cafes. Substitute kosher-for-Passover or gluten-free panko per your needs. The arancini should fry long enough for the cheese center to melt—if they are browning too quickly, lower the heat slightly. Be sure to use arborio or carnaroli rice, which will be sticky enough to hold together without eggs or other binders.
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Course Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Italian, Jewish-Italian

Equipment

  • A deep-fry or candy thermometer to monitor oil temperature during frying

Ingredients
  

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 ounces fresh baby spinach
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cups Arborio short-grained rice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups water or stock
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • About half an 8-ounce container of mozzarella pearls (such as Bel Gioioso), or fresh mozzarella cut into approximately ½-inch pieces
  • cups panko use gluten-free or kosher for Passover panko as needed
  • Vegetable oil about 2 quarts or enough to cover balls

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with foil. Toss spinach with olive oil to coat and spread out on the baking sheet(s). Season lightly with salt.
  • Roast spinach about 10 minutes, until completely wilted and a few pieces are browning. Remove and let cool slightly. Squeeze out any extra liquid and chop.
  • Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 3 minutes, until edges of rice turn slightly translucent. Stir in 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper to taste, ground red pepper, and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer without stirring for about 15 minutes, until rice is al dente and most liquid is absorbed (the mixture will be creamy).
  • Remove from heat and stir in the Parmigiano and cheddar cheeses, and then the chopped spinach. Taste for seasoning. Set aside until cool enough to handle comfortably, about 45 minutes.
  • To make the balls, moisten hands with water. Form about 2 tablespoons of cooked rice into a thick disk, then press one mozzarella piece into the center. Shape so the rice completely encloses the cheese (adding more rice if needed) and squeeze to make a compact ball. Roll in panko and repeat with remaining rice.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed, deep-sided pan (such as a Dutch oven) to 350°F to 355°F. Working in batches of 5 balls at a time so as not to crowd the pan, gently lower the balls into the oil and fry, turning once or twice, until deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. (If browning too quickly, lower heat slightly). Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls.

Notes

Arancini can be made ahead and frozen. To reheat, place on a wire rack over a baking sheet and heat 30-40 minutes in a 350°F oven until hot all the way through.
Keyword Gluten-Free, Hanukkah, Passover, risotto, spinach