I’ve been mulling for a while now how to title this post, the current title Italian Rice Balls is adequate. The dish has rice. The dish is Italian. The dish is balls. So far so good.
But… its so much more! I served it at a popup-restaurant event a few weeks ago with a twist. I combined another classic into the balls. A classic within a classic, and it made it so much more!
Cacio e Pepe is usually done with spaghetti, (cacio e pepe means cheese and pepper). Its simple. Simple in the way Einstein talked about simplicity, simple, but not boring. Instead of spaghetti, rice could also be used for this dish. Italian cooks, who would not throw away leftover risotto, would ball it, bread it, and fry it. Thus Riso Cacio e Pepe. Its a mouthful to say, and a mouthful it is! When you first try it, the first thing you get is an umami bomb. Flavor all over your mouth. Then the cream, and then the perfume of the black pepper notes kick in, and the ironically peppery bite of the parmesan cheese. You get the textural feel because of the breading, the waves of flavor from the rice. Its not a boring dish by any means!
I used chicken stock instead of water, adding another layer of flavor into the mix. Once the rice is cooked, add the cream and let it reduce. It adds a velvety softness to the dish that stays with you for a few moments after every bite. Also, be liberal with the cheese. Be generous. Add a little more! You want that.
After cooking the rice, its very important that it cools, if you’ve ever made meatballs before, the same principle applies, you have to let the mixture rest so it can firm up. I tried handing it right away (for Science!) but it would break apart on me. After I let the mix rest, they were much more pliable. Their shapes held together!
Making the breading procedure:
It sounds austere, but its really a fancy name for having three bowls : one with flour, one with egg and water mixed, and one with breadcrumbs.
Dip the balls in flour first, then the egg wash, then the panko. In cooking school they would teach us DWD (Dry Wet Dry), helps to remember. The flour can be seasoned (extra extra layer of flavor), but its main job is to help the ball stick to the egg wash. And the main job of the egg wash is to stick the breadcrumbs to the ball. Once everything is evenly coated, fry till golden and let them cool.
Tip: you can make this dish in advance, leave in the fridge until you need them and heat them in the oven to get them ready. You wont lose the crunch. You’ll love the flavors!
PS: Sorry for the lack of how to photos guys. When I made these it was at 3:00am for service the next day and I had 8 more recipes to do. I’ll update in the future and make it clearer.
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 quart water
- 1 cup uncooked white rice
- 2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil (E.V.O.O)
- 2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
- I cup all purpose flour
- 1 extra egg (for egg wash)
- For the rice:
- Mix cheese, eggs, pepper, whisk them together in a bowl and set aside.
- Pour water and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat to low. Cook until water is almost absorbed, stirring frequently (thats important as it helps release the starch in the rice).
- Add the cream and stir until most of the liquid is cooked out.
- Remove from heat and slowly pour in egg mixture and stir.
- Allow rice mixture to cool for 2 hours. Or you can freeze overnight.
- After cooling make rice into 1oz balls (ice cream scooper helps here) and tightly compact them.
- Coat in the flour
- Dip in egg wash (egg and 1/2 cup of water)
- Evenly coat in the Panko
- Fry at 350 degrees until golden brown.
- Let the balls rest on paper towel so it doesn’t get soggy