Asparagus Arancini Stuffed With Creamy Taleggio Cheese
Street food is becoming so popular these days, whether it is sold from food trucks or tiny hole in the wall shops. In Sicily, street food is a way of life, and it almost seems that you cannot walk down any street in Palermo without coming across a shop selling arancini (rice balls), panini con panelle (buns with chickpea fritters), or slices of piping hot sfincione (thick crust Sicilian pizza). Even on the ferry from Calabria to Messina, Sicily, they were selling various types of arancini, and other Sicilian street food specialties.
While in Palermo, we came across a shop called Ke Palle which boasted that it sold over 40 types of arancini. I had the best of intentions to try a couple out, but every time we passed the shop we had just eaten and I-couldn’t-eat-another-bite. Looking at their website later however, I am sorry that I didn’t make more of an effort, because as well as the traditional rice balls, they had balls made of pasta and other unique ingredients. They even had dessert balls that look very impressive. Oh well, I’ll just have to make my own at home!
As fantastic as that arancini shop was in Palermo, the best rice ball I tasted in Sicily was at a bar attached to a gas station if you can imagine. The arancini was asparagus flavored with a creamy cheese center that oozed out when you bit into it. The arancini in Sicily tend to be quite large, and in fact, my husband and I shared this asparagus one, but once I got home, I couldn’t get it off my mind. This past weekend while my husband was away climbing the hills in Nove Colli on his bike, I was in the kitchen experimenting with some Silician recipes, including this recipe. I wasn’t sure what cheese they used in the version I enjoyed in Sicily, but I think it was mozzarella. I used taleggio cheese because first of all it is my absolute favorite Italian cheese, and second of all, it is very creamy, and I knew it would be perfect inside a rice ball. I am very pleased how these arancini turned out as they are very close to the ones I enjoyed so much in Sicily.
To make the best arancini, you need to make the risotto the day before, so the rice cools and gets sticky which holds the arancini together. If you cannot find taleggio, you can use any soft melting cheese such as mozzarella, Brie, or Fontina. Although I decided to keep my rice balls meatless, you could include a small cube of ham within the center as well as the cheese. I usually make a large batch of these rice balls and freeze most of them. To freeze, once they are coated with breadcrumbs, I place them apart on a baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, I store them in plastic bags until needed. At least four hours before I plan to fry the arancini, I remove them from the freezer and allow them to thaw completely.
Address: Via Maqueda, 270, 90133 Palermo
Phone: 091 611 2009
The Ke Palle shop in Palermo was busy every time we walked by!
Deborah Mele 2016
Yield: Serves 10 -12
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Butter
1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
1 Cup Arborio Rice
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
5 Cups Heated Vegetable of Light Chicken Broth
1 Bunch Asparagus, Tough Ends Trimmed, Cut Into 1/2 Inch Pieces
Salt & Pepper
4 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Basil
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Cup All-purpose Flour
2 Eggs Beaten With 1/3 Cup Milk
2 Cups Seasoned Breadcrumbs
6 Ounces of Taleggio (or Another Melting Cheese - See Notes Above)
Oil For Frying
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy saucepan.
Add the onions and cook until they are translucent.
Add the rice and stir until it is well coated with the butter and oil mixture.
Add the white wine, and stir continually over medium heat until it is absorbed.
Start to add 1/2 cup of hot broth, and half the asparagus stirring as it is absorbed.
Continue in this manner, adding ladles full of hot broth, and stirring continuously for about 20-25 minutes or until the rice is cooked, but remains slightly firm to the teeth.
In another small pot, blanch the remaining asparagus until tender.
Drain, then place in a small food processor and puree until smooth.
Stir in the grated cheese, pureed asparagus, and basil into the risotto and season with salt and pepper.
Refrigerate risotto, covered, for 8 hours, or overnight.
Place the flour in one shallow bowl, the eggs and milk in another, and the breadcrumbs in a third bowl.
Take a small handful of the rice and place in your palm creating an indentation in the center.
Place a piece of cheese in the center, and wrap the rice around the cheese creating an oblong shape as shown in the photos.
Continue to use up all the rice in the same manner, placing the finished rice balls on a baking sheet.
Take each rice ball and first roll in flour, then dip into the egg mixture, and finally roll in breadcrumbs.
Return to the baking sheet, and continue to coat the remaining rice balls in the same manner.
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan to 375 degrees F.
Fry 3 or 4 rice balls at a time until crisp and golden brown.
Use a slotted spoon to remove from the oil, and place on a tray covered in paper towels in a warm oven.
Continue to fry the remaining rice balls in the same fashion, then serve hot.