My current season of cooking is defined by two themes: a) a craving for texture and b) a craving for old-school comfort food. It's actually a really beautiful pairing of desires because most of the "winter food" I grew up with definitely would have benefited from added crunch.
Pasta bakes are better with breadcrumb toppings; meaty (or mushroom-y) stews work best with hunks of freshly-toasted croutons; and flavorful chilis and pozoles should be topped with fried tortilla strips. My favorite part of the casseroles that tended to sit in the spotlight of our family dinners were the crispy, browned edges that formed on the tops and corners of the baking dishes. I've often wished that I could create something that had the same flavors but multiplied the crisp-factor tenfold.
Well, I finally did it! Let me introduce you to these broccoli and cheddar "arancini," which are a loose mash-up of my mother's broccoli-rice casserole and fried risotto balls (a popular Italian appetizer).
I took the best of both worlds — starchy arborio rice, bright broccoli and punchy sharp cheddar — and contained them in a substantial breadcrumb crust. While these are perfect on their own or with the dipping sauce of your choice, I really like adding one or two to a bowl of broccoli-cheddar soup for a little extra coziness.
Recipe: Broccoli and Cheddar "Arancini"
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1 egg, whipped
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 4 ounces (or 8 tablespoons) of sharp cheddar, shredded
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the arborio rice according to package directions, then spread the rice on a baking sheet and set aside until completely cool. (You can pop it in the refrigerator to speed up this process.)
Meanwhile, melt the unsalted butter in a small pan, then bring the heat up to medium-high. Add the minced shallot and garlic and sauté until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the broccoli florets and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Place the mixture in a large bowl and set aside.
Add the cooled rice to the large bowl with the broccoli, shallot and garlic mixture and stir until completely combined.
Add the shredded sharp cheddar, the whipped egg and the heavy cream to the same same bowl. Next, fold in 2/3 cups of breadcrumbs. At this point, using your hands, you should be able to form small, round balls from the rice and broccoli mixture. Make 16. (They don't have to be perfectly round!)
Pour the remaining breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and roll the arancini until they're fully coated. Place on a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
From here, you have a few options for cooking. You can place them in batches in a 400-degree air fryer and cook for 10 minutes, flipping once at the halfway mark.
You can also bake them on a parchment-covered sheet pan at 350-degrees for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Or you can fry them. To do so, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees. Working in batches, fry the rice balls, turning until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; season with salt.
Enjoy! Serve as a side dish, a snack or — my personal favorite! — as a topper for a hot bowl of broccoli-cheddar soup.
More super simple weeknight meals:
- The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta
- A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds — and it's sublime
- This riff on a classic Southern pie is comfort in a bite — and the leftovers taste great for breakfast
- French-inspired lentils are the easiest cure for your winter blues — and they're impossible to mess up
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