OVEN-BAKED ITALIAN RICE BALLS (CROCCHETTE DI RISO AL FORNO) - OUR STRESS-FREE GLUTEN-FREE HEALTHY VERSION

     

     Before we delve into our recipe here's a bonus Italian lesson for you: crocchette is pronounced krok-keht-teh (in Italian "c" and "g" followed by "h" always make a hard sound). This term is not the only one rice balls go by in Italy, and my version is non-the-less the only way to make them. In fact, there are various versions of crocchette di riso throughout the many Italian regions, and they may often be identified by different terms. Some people call them croquettes (using the French term), arancini (pronounced: ah-ran-chee-nee), or supplì (pronounced: soup-plee); and based on a specific geographical area, both the ingredients and the shape may differ. In Sicily, for instance, they are called Arancini di Riso (or Arancine), and beside having a slightly pointy shape, their filling is a bit more complicated and includes a mix of beef, pork, peas, carrots, onions, tomato sauce, cacio cavallo cheese, and other ingredients.

    The recipe I want to share with you is another one of our family's favorites. It is once again a traditional Neapolitan dish I proudly inherited from my favorite chef in the world (my mom!) and that I have enjoyed many times while growing up in Italy. My goal is to reproduce these rice-balls in the gluten free version, while still maintaining their authentic flavor, and making them healthier through baking them in the oven rather than frying.

    Though the Neapolitan version is simple and still very delicious, who says that one cannot add any other ingredients they fancy? My suggestion: start simple, and as you master the process, try adding whatever extras you may like. 

OVEN-BAKED ITALIAN RICE BALLS 
(CROCCHETTE DI RISO AL FORNO)
(Makes 6 large Crocchette )
Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups of cooked Arborio or Basmati rice* (this recipe works best with rice that has been left out to rest) 
(*To make the rice: rinse it a couple of times in a strainer under running cold water until the water becomes clear. Pour two cups of water in a medium pot on medium heat, and add 1 tbs of coarse salt. Add the rice to the pot and 1 tbs of EVOO. Stir and bring to a boil. When it reaches the boiling point, give it one more stir, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Take the pot off the stove, cover with a lid, and let the rice sit for 10-15 minutes. Fluff  it up with a fork before serving or using it to make "crocchette di riso".)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of store-bought or home made GF bread crumbs**
(**For the home-made crumbs: toast 3 or 4 slices of your favorite GF bread until golden brown, cut in smaller pieces, and grind finely in a food processor with 1/4 tsp of: dried oregano, ginger powder, salt and pepper to taste)
  • 5 strips of mozzarella (in its absence, any melting cheese like cheddar or cacio cavallo will do)
  • 3 tbs of frying oil or EVOO
  • 1.5 tbs of butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Let's start assembling...
  • Coat a rectangular glassware container with 2 tbs of high-heat oil (For this particular recipe, I personally favor organic sunflower oil, that I spread around with the help of a food-grade brush) , and set aside
  • Beat the egg in a deep bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside
  • Pour the breadcrumbs in an other bowl, and also set aside
  • With your fingers squeeze to "massage" the rice to make it more homogeneous (almost like a coarse paste - which will help you work with it more easily)
  • Preheat the oven at 350 F degrees
  • Put some rice in one hand, and cup the hand while pressing with the other to make a base for the mozzarella strip/cheese to go in
  • Take some more rice and cover the mozzarella, molding the rice into a ball (approx. 3x3 inches), and making sure that the cheese is not visible - or it will leak out while baking
  • Wet your fingers and continue forming the ball, which you will then briefly roll into the beaten egg
  • Roll the egg-coated rice ball into the bread crumbs, and gently press it into shape even more
  • Place it in the glassware, and repeat the process until you finish all the rice
  • Sprinkle the remaining oil on the balls, and top them each with a piece of butter
  • Put the glassware with the crocchette di riso in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes - or until they turn a nice golden color
  • Serve hot or save the left overs in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to reheat and enjoy the next day or through the week
BUON APPETITO!
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