Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Rice of the Roman Empire

Supplì al Forno con Bresaola, Gorgonzola & Pistacchio 
Oven-Baked Supplì (Roman Rice-Balls), with Bresaola, Gorgonzola & Pistachio

One of the things I grew to love on my recent trip to Rome, was the city's favorite snack and street food, the "Supplì", which are little deep-fried balls of rice in a variety of flavors. The classic version is a simple rice with a little tomato sauce in it, usually made from the previous days left-over risotto. Which is what I love about it- anything that makes excellent use of good food is a good idea in my book- and if it is as delicious as this it is an even better idea!

I tried supplì in a number of flavors- with a cheese filling, mortadella, ground meat and even fish... but my favorite by far was the pistachio-crusted version that I tried a couple of times at Volpetti on the Via Marmorata and Rome's best little food store by far! Many tourists wise-up to this address from their tour-guides... and rightly so... but most of them don't know that just around the corner, is the equally tiny "Volpetti Piu", which is a little "hole in the wall" eatery of theirs, where you can enjoy the little snacks, hams, cheeses and salads on the premises. I am so glad that I discovered it!

These tasty treats are like the little brothers of my most beloved of all snack foods; Sicilian "arancini", which although they are also available in many flavors, traditionally are made of saffron rice and have a filling of tomato and meat ragú, peas and mozzarella... wow! The only "down side" (if indeed it is one), is that both of these delicious snacks are deep-fried. Sigh! So sad that I struggle with my weight at the best of times... without having to endure this kind of temptation! So this evening I went about creating my own version- oven-baked and a little lighter on the waistline I hope! And this is how I did it :-)

I started off with 2 cups of risotto rice, which I boiled in my rice cooker with 4 cups of water, stirring only once, initially, when I added a little salt and then boiling for 15 minutes. I then turned the cooker off and let the rice finish cooking in the residual heat. I did that this morning before work and when I came home, of course it had absorbed all of the water, was cold and sticky and ready to use. As I said- normally you could make this out of left-over rice... I just wanted to try this out though today!

I added 1 egg yolk to the rice, 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, a half teaspoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of flour and a little pepper for flavor. The Parmesan was already rather salty and the Bresaola and Gorgonzola would add salt too- so I held back at this point. I stirred this all together and checked the consistency- it seemed a little too moist and soft, so I added more Parmesan, which is a good way to bulk up the dry ingredients. If the rice is too moist it will not hold together well- that is why I didn't add a whole egg for this 2-cup mixture, just the yolk. Of course, by the time the rice had cooked, there was about 4 cups worth- so my rule of thumb would be 1 yolk to 4 cups of cooked rice. The yield I got from this was 16 balls of roughly golf ball size... not bad for 2 cups of rice, huh?

I decided to try something a little different and give mine a filling of chopped Bresaola, which is a lean, beef ham and a little pat of gorgonzola in each, So I took a little handful of rice, formed a ball, squeezed it flat and pressed the filling into the middle. I then folded it closed and rolled it back into shape. As soon as the rice balls were formed, I rolled them in flour and set them to one side ready for the crispy coating... and turned on the oven so it would be nice and hot and ready to go!

You are wondering what I did with the egg white, aren't you? Well, of course I used it as a dip for the bread crumb, pistachio and cheese coating- but first of all I whisked it up until it was light and fluffy and much more in volume, similar to the way you would make an egg-white batter for fried zucchini blossoms for example- something else I learned at Volpetti :-)

The breading was a mix of 2 cups bread crumbs, 3 cups ground pistachio and 1 cup of grated Parmesan. I added a little pepper, stirred everything through and was ready to go! I carefully dipped the rice balls first into the egg white, then into the crumbs, making sure they got an even coating. You may find that you need (or want) a little more crumbs, just make sure if you add more, to not forget the cheese as this helps bind the crumbs whilst they bake.

The little trick that I used to help get this to work well without the frying, was to pour a little olive oil onto my hands and then squeeze the rice balls more compactly into shape, pressing the breading in slightly and giving them a light coat of oil- this is all it takes to get those crumbs and the pistachio nice and brown- the cheese in the breading will help too.

I baked the Supplì for 5 minutes at 300°F and then turned on the broiler and kept turning them as necessary, until they were browned on all sides. Sure, this is a lot more work than plopping them into oil and frying them- but a lot less work when it comes to burning off those calories! And yes, it did take between 15 and 20 minutes of constant attention... but as I said- to me it was worth it! And the bottom line IS- if you want to fry them, that will work wonderfully too! I am just jealous of you being able to get away with eating them!

As soon as they are golden brown, bring them to the table, grab some napkins- and dig-in whilst they are hot! That's when they are best- although they do actually taste really nice cold as well. I just don't think you will have any left over once you start...


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