It's been almost two weeks since I made the move to the sunnier climates of Tuscany and today it occurred to me that it would truly be a crime not to document, and indeed share, all that I have experienced in recent days and what is still yet to come. I have had the unbelievably good fortune of finding myself totally immersed in authentic, Italian family life; a life which, for this family, mainly revolves around a small vegetable garden, a well broken-in gas stove and a polished, wooden table on the far side of the kitchen. I feel as though I have died and gone to foodie heaven. And this is what it looks like...
My boyfriend Michele (pronounced Mee-kay-lay) and his brother Antonio crowd around the kitchen counter top, obscuring my view of whatever has grabbed their attention. The intermittent blowing and 'mmmh' sounds coming from their direction and the delicious smell of fried breadcrumbs tells me that Anna has cooked up another batch of her awe-inspiring arancini - balls of rice, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Anna, Michele's mother, stands at the stove, frying off yet another batch of today's antipasto. She turns to greet me and tells me to dive in whilst they're still 'belli caldi' (nice and hot) rather than waiting to eat them at the table. I wrestle in between the two brothers who seem more like a couple of kids in a sweet shop than two grown men in their mother's kitchen. I pick up a beautifully golden arancino between my fingers which has the appearance of a large scotch egg. I blow on it for a few seconds then take a large bite through the crispy golden coating to reveal a center of delicious tomato-ey rice stuffed with oozy mozzarella which stretches out into a long string as I attempt to bite through it. Anna explains that, traditionally, the rice in the arancini is flavored with saffron and is usually stuffed with ragù and peas but today she has adapted the recipe in order to use up ingredients in the fridge. As we continue to gorge on the plate of crispy treats, Michele's father, Giovanni, appears from the garden carrying a large bowl of freshly picked figs and a handful of tomatoes boasting in thick Calabrian dialect about the abundance of today's pickings. Eventually Anna announces 'É pronto eh!' (its ready) and we eagerly sit at the table and await the wonders that are to follow...
Arancini di riso al pomodoro e mozzarella
500g left-over risotto rice
Fresh tomato sauce
75g parmesan cheese
1 ball of mozzarella cut into 2cm cubes
Oil for frying
Salt and pepper
1. In a large bowl mix together the cold risotto rice, parmesan cheese and 2 egg yolks. Then gradually add the fresh tomato sauce until the rice is well coated but still firm enough to shape with your hands.
2. Take a small handful of the mixture, flattening it in the palm of your hand and place a cube of mozzarella in the centre. Close your hand, enclosing the mozzarella in the rice and roll it between your palms until it forms a firm, ball-like shape. Repeat until you have used up all the rice and mozzarella. (Note: it helps if you dampen your hands with water before trying to mould the rice.)
3. Half-fill a medium saucepan with oil and place over a medium heat until the oil is at the correct temperature for frying. (You can test this by dropping a few breadcrumbs into the pan. When the oil bubbles around the crumbs it is ready for frying.) In the meantime set up 3 bowls to coat the rice balls, one with flour, one with well seasoned eggs and one with breadcrumbs. Taking one rice ball at a time, roll in flour, egg wash and finally breadcrumbs. Repeat the process for the rest of the rice balls. (Note: use one hand for the flour and breadcrumbs and the other for the eggs.)
4. Fry the breaded arancini in small batches for around 4 minutes or until they are golden brown. Eat them while they're still belli caldi!
Variation: Be inventive! Add different cheeses, vegetables and meats to the centre of the arancini, whatever you have in your fridge! Prosciutto cotto is a very popular addition for meat lovers.