A stay-at-home mom, she lives in Kings Park with her husband and two sons.
Who inspires you when you're cooking? First, I think about my Nana, who was from Sicily and an amazing cook. She never followed a recipe, but every time she made a dish it came out exactly the same as last time, and perfect. Then there's my mom, who learned from her mom. I worked as a waitress at an amazing restaurant, the 7th Street Café in Garden City. All of my downtime, I'd go into the kitchen and write down everything I saw. I learned so many great recipes there, for sauces, soups. My biggest inspiration is my husband. I met him in a restaurant — Mim's in Syosset. He was a chef, and I was a waitress. He's an amazing cook. And there's my mother-in-law, who's Dominican and taught me how to make all the food he grew up with, the roast pork, the beans.
Where did you get this recipe? I got the original recipe (which I've altered slightly) from a Sicilian friend of mine, Josephine DiMaggio. Arancini are small oranges, and refer to the shape and color of the rice balls. Most recipes call for about 1 tablespoon of filling, but I like to use twice as much. I think that's one of the secrets.
What makes them so good? Arborio rice, which is used in risotto, has a lot of starch. The starch makes the rice creamy, and helps the balls stick together. And the chicken broth gives the rice great flavor. Between the broth and the Parmesan, there's no way the rice is going to be bland.
How do you serve these? I serve them as a side dish at dinner. They're great for a party, because you can make them in advance and freeze them for up to a month. Defrost them in the refrigerator overnight and fry them up.
Rice Balls (Arancini)
Fill the rice balls with shredded mozzarella, prosciutto, or ham. Maria’s favorite filling is a combination of meat sauce, peas, and shredded mozzarella. To serve, she splits them open and sometimes tops them with tomato sauce or a dollop of ricotta cheese.
8 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups Arborio rice
2 cups grated Parmigiano reggiano cheese
3 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 cups seasoned bread crumbs
5 cups filling of your choice (shredded mozzarella, prosciutto, ham, meat sauce)
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Bring broth and olive oil to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in rice and return to a boil. Adjust heat to a simmer and cook rice until al dente, about 10 minutes.
2. Drain rice and let stand until slightly cooled.
3. Combine cheese, eggs and cream in a large pan and stir well. Place bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
4. Wet the palm of your hand with cold water and take about 1/2 cup of the rice mixture and form into a ball. Make a dent in the center and fill with about 2 tablespoons filling. Seal the rice ball so it completely encloses the filling.
5. Reform the rice into a smooth ball. Roll ball in bread crumbs. Repeat until all rice has been used.
6. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Pour about 3 inches of vegetable oil in deep pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once oil has heated, fry rice balls in batches, browning them on all sides until they are a deep, rich, golden color. Serve immediately. Makes about 36 balls.