The first time I experienced a truly exceptional risotto was in Italy. After a heavy day of travel, from Venice to Milan, Brent and I were lacking the energy needed to find a cute little sit-down restaurant, the kind that we were familiar with - situated on a tiny cobblestone street reminiscent of our preceding Italian encounters. Not wanting to veer too far from our hostel, we walked for what we thought would be 10 minutes but turned out to be an hour. Hungry and frustrated, eventually realizing that we were just circumnavigating the Duomo de Milan over and over, Brent made the executive decision that our best option was to step foot through the large wide doors across the street into the mall. Clearly, we weren't excited about spending our last day in Italy dining at a mall, but we had run out of ideas. Thinking that we were entering a typical North American mall fitted with a food court, trendy shops, and possibly a few massage chairs, within seconds, we realized that we were wildly incorrect.
We ended up walking into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which turns out is one of the world's oldest, and in my opinion, most beautiful malls to exist. We walked around with our mouths wide open, admiring the architecture - the arching glass and cast iron roof, the dome, and the mosaics. Eventually, we realized that yes indeed we were still starving, so we found the nearest little sit-down restaurant. We chose a table that had been enclosed in the hallway of the mall. I felt like we were in a scene from Lady in the Tramp, sharing meals on a small circular table covered with a red checkered tablecloth, breadsticks in a canister, and a white candle snuggly fitted into an old wine bottle, dripping wax down the sides. Brent ordered the saffron risotto, and I ordered the gnocchi. When his risotto came to the table, it was so delicious, I couldn't stop myself from helping him to finish it all, leaving the gnocchi behind. That evening in Milan, I realized the true potential of a risotto done right. Up until that point, my experiences had been nothing but sub-par.
Since that evening in Milan, I vowed to learn how to make a risotto as good as the one we shared. In the beginning, I started off by making small servings. Not confident in my ability to pull it off, I figured that I wouldn't feel as bad if it didn't turn out and I only made enough for two. Now when I'm making risotto, I'll make enough for a family of 8 - I can't help myself. We'll usually eat leftovers for a day or two, and then once we're tired of that, I transform the risotto into a completely new dish - arancini. Arancini are Sicilian rice balls stuffed with cheese, coated with breadcrumbs and then fried. Leftover risotto is the perfect medium for these balls, as it is soft and creamy in texture which allows it to be easily formed into a round shape. Broccoli rabe is a lovely cruciferous vegetable, similar in appearance to broccoli, minus the large florets. It has a slightly bitter and nutty taste which when combined with the creaminess of this risotto and Parmesan cheese can make for an excellent combination. Served warm, and then dipped into the marinara sauce, your first bite of the crispy panko exterior crust, soft chewy center, and melty mozzarella cheese will leave you feeling utter joy.
Big thanks to the folks over at Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe for sponsoring this post. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own. For more broccoli rabe recipe ideas be sure to check out their website and Facebook page.
They have some pretty delicious looking recipes on their site, including this green ricotta skillet pizza and roasted broccoli rabe, avocado and egg tostada with chimichurri
BROCCOLI RABE ARANCINI WITH MARINARA SAUCE
makes 20 arancini balls and 2 cups marinara
prep time: 30 minutes
cooking time: 1 hour
3 cups vegetable broth
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup dry arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb broccoli rabe
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
vegetable, canola, or a neutral oil for frying
2 oz mozzarella, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups panko crumbs
1 large can (28 oz) whole tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp salt
Heat the vegetable broth in a medium saucepan on low.
In a large dutch oven, wok, or saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the diced onion and fry until soft and translucent. Add the dry arborio rice and combine with the onions, heat for 2 minutes.
Add the white wine to the risotto, and simmer on medium heat until it has absorbed, stirring occasionally.
Once the wine has absorbed, add a ladle of the broth and combine. Simmer until the broth has absorbed, stirring occasionally. Add the next ladle of broth and continue in this manner until you have used all of the broth, or the risotto is tender and creamy.
While the risotto is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the broccoli rabe and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the water and immerse the broccoli rabe into and ice water bath for 2 minutes. Drain, and chop into small pieces. Set to the side.
Once the risotto has cooked, stir in the broccoli rabe, and season with salt, pepper, and the Parmesan cheese. Let the risotto cool before you make the risotto balls or store in the fridge overnight.
In a medium saucepan, add enough oil to measure 4 inches deep. Heat on medium to 375ºF.
In a small bowl, whisk the flour and water.
In a food processor pulse the panko for a few minutes, to get a small grain. Place onto a plate.
Scoop 1/4 cup of the risotto into your hands. Flatten into a disk and place a 1/2-inch small piece of mozzarella in the center. Fold the risotto around the mozzarella and roll into a ball. Dip the ball into the flour slurry, and then cover with panko crumbs. Place the risotto balls onto a baking sheet.
With a slotted spoon, place 5 risotto balls at a time into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, approximately 5 - 7 minutes. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve warm with marinara sauce. Best if eaten the day of.
In a food processor, add the canned tomatoes and pulse until thick.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on low. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to sizzle, approximately 1 minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Serve warm.
Store leftover marinara covered in the fridge for up to a week.