Risotto Rice Balls

Meet your signature appetizer. This easy recipe will grace your dinner parties for years to come. Not only are the rice balls infinitely customizable, but they can be made the day before or earlier in the day, and warmed in a low oven before serving. Serve them plain or with a dipping sauce of your choosing — arrabiata sauce is a particularly nice contrast to the creamy, cheesy rice balls. Yields 25 - 30 tablespoon-sized rice balls.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided into two 1-teaspoon measurements
  • 5 cups hot water
  • 1½ cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4-6 cups vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ cups panko bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt for finishing

Instructions:

  1. Liberally grease a baking sheet (a half sheet pan size works perfectly) and set aside.
  2. Small dice the onion and pancetta. Press or finely mince the garlic cloves.
  3. In a pot, sweat the onion and pancetta in the olive oil over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and cook another 3 to 5 minutes, until the garlic no longer smells raw.
  4. Meanwhile, bring the hot water to a boil in a separate pot.
  5. Add the arborio rice and cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and cook until the rice has absorbed most of the wine, about 3 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to medium low and add ½ cup water. Stir slowly and continuously. Once the rice has absorbed the water and it looks much thicker, add another half cup water. Repeat until the rice is cooked thoroughly (not al dente), 30 to 40 minutes. You may not need all of the water.
  7. Remove the rice from the heat and stir in 1c parmesan. Taste for seasoning, you want it to be ever so slightly salty.
  8. Spread the rice out into an even layer on the baking sheet. Allow to cool completely to room temperature, about a half hour. Once it's completely cooled, it will set. If you're not pressed for time, refrigerate the cooled pan for an hour before proceeding to make the next steps a bit easier.
  9. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon of rice and form into a ball with greased hands. Set on a baking sheet while you roll out the rest of the rice balls.
  10. Heat 4 cups of vegetable oil in a deep pot to 350°F. While the oil heats, set out two bowls: one with a beaten egg and a splash of water, and the other with the bread crumbs and the remaining teaspoon dried oregano. Set out a large plate or platter lined with paper towels.
  11. Working with 5 rice balls at a time, roll in the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Coat the balls evenly and thoroughly.
  12. Once the oil is up to temp, fry the balls for just 3 to 4 minutes, stirring so they fry evenly. Once well browned and hot throughout, set the balls on the paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with kosher salt to finish.
  13. Fry remaining rice balls in the same manner, keeping a close eye on the temperature of the oil and the heat. Serve piping hot.