Yesterday our kitchen went from plasterdust-coated, totally-gutted hellhole to something that actually resembles a kitchen! I’d love to say that we got some professionals in to work their magic while we sat back and poured ourselves G&Ts, but the reality is that K and I slogged long hours into the night to do it ourselves. And I can honestly say that there was only one thing that kept us going, kept our spirits high and prevented us from throttling each other after 12 hours of shared hard labour, and it was these beautiful balls of joy – quinoa arancini!
Arancini are a traditional Sicilian dish, comprising rich and fluffy rice surrounding a molten filling, all encased in golden breadcrumbs and deep fried. I remember the first time I ever tried one – sadly not in Sicily but in a little Sicilian cafe in Notting Hill as a student, and how deeply I fell in love with the beautiful saffron-tinged rice and the flavours that spoke of sunnier climes! They became my favourite pick-me-up treat, cheap enough to buy on a limited student budget, but luxurious enough to put a smile on my face as I clutched the brown paper bag containing them and headed off to college.
I remembered them again recently, when I was thinking of something that could keep us going while we did the kitchen – that wouldn’t require any cooking once prepared, that we could eat with our hands and devour over a short tea break. But I also wanted to make a few changes to the traditional recipe, to make them a lower-carb treat. So I replaced the rice with quinoa, and the breadcrumbs with an almond crust. And I was amazed by how much these resembled the arancini I remembered from my student days.
We ate these yesterday, standing around a work bench, grasping cups of tea and shovelling in golden morsels whilst plotting our next kitchen move. But I’m so pleased with how they turned out that I’m already plotting my next batch to take to work with me, and I’m thinking that they could become a take-to-work lunchbox staple. I’ve included two recipes for fillings – one vegetarian (spinach and ricotta), one not (ham and mozarella), but feel free to improvise – some leftover ragu or roasted vegetables would be lovely!
- 360g quinoa
- 100ml vegetable stock
- 1 tsp saffron strands
- 100g grated parmesan
- 300g ground almonds
- 4 eggs
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- For the spinach and ricotta stuffing:
- 160g fresh baby spinach
- 300g ricotta
- For the ham and mozarella stuffing:
- 250g cooked ham, finely diced (I used boiled gammon)
- 200g mozarella
- Grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle, then add 4 tbsp of boiling water. Leave to ‘brew’ in the mortar for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa well, then place in a large saucepan with 1000ml of good quality vegetable stock. Place on the heat and bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture is boiling, add the saffron ‘brew’, then reduce the heat and simmer gently. Continue to cook until all of the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is cooked well.
- Spread the quinoa out in a large flat dish and leave for 15 minutes to cool.
- While the quinoa is cooling, prepare your fillings: For the spinach and ricotta stuffing – boil spinach for 3-4 minutes then drain and stir through the ricotta. For the ham and mozarella stuffing - finely chop the ham and mozarella, then set aside in a small bowl.
- Once the quinoa is cool, add the grated parmesan and stir through. Check the seasoning, and add salt if necessary. The mixture should be sticky enough to form rough patties when you squeeze it in your palm. If it isn’t, add a beaten egg, slowly, until the right consistency is reached.
- For the assembly of the arancini, I’d recommend making yourself a little production line. Start on the left with your bowl of quinoa mix, followed by your chosen stuffing, then have yourself a bowl of 3 beaten eggs, followed by a plate with the ground almonds in.
- Take a small handful of the quinoa mix, press it into your cupped hand, and then place a spoonful of your stuffing in the middle. With your other hand take another handful of the quinoa mix, squeeze it flat, and place over the top of the stuffing. Squeeze, press and cajole the quinoa until it fully overs the filling, and roll between your hands to make a nice ball. Then dip in the beaten egg, roll in the ground almonds and set to one side.
- When all of your arancini are ready, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan, over a high heat. You can test when it’s reached the right temperature by throwing a little pinch of leftover quinoa mix into the pan. When the oil is hot enough it should bubble enthusiastically.
- Working in batches, fry the arancini, turning them regularly until they are golden brown on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve while still warm, or reheat gently in the oven before serving.