What has happened to the good old fashioned starter? When and where did it stop becoming a thing, and why didn’t I get the memo. I can’t speak for more than London but with the resounding dominance of the sharing plate trend, the starter has become rather obsolete. I have lost count of the dinner parties I go to where this part of the meal is sidelined to dips n chips, or worse yet supermarket sausage rolls. Its a shame, because it is the course I feel has he most potential to impress guests with. Everything looks good in miniature and plated daintily on a side plate.
I am not generally a fan of the deep fryer, but there are somethings that just can’t be baked. Scotch eggs, arancini, croquettes and stuffed courgette flowers included. I use any dinner party as an excuse to make these sorts of indulgent favourites as starters, because they are eaten in moderation and can always be followed up, or served with something light… like a side salad
If you don’t fancy making chestnut risotto, or can’t get hold of chestnuts, you can equally use a mushroom, or butternut squash risotto alternative. Just make sure all the vegetables are very finely chopped, so they mesh with the rice and stick to the quails egg properly.
Unlike most of the recipes I share, these arancini balls take a little longer to make, but they are so worth the time spent. One of the reasons I am such a fan is that they have the capacity to turn yesterdays leftovers risotto into something all together more spectacular. I tend to make double the risotto base the day before so the rice is cold and easier to handle when making the balls.
To save time, you can also do all the rolling of the arancini in breadcrumbs ahead and pop them in the fridge s they are ready to fry right before serving guests.
For the Chestnut Risotto
Serves 3 as a risotto / Enough for 12 arancini balls
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stick, finely chopped
- 3 handful rehydrated porcini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 3 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 300g of arborio risotto rice
- 1 ltr strong flavoured chicken stock
- 150g of chestnuts, cooked, peeled and finely chopped
- 100ml of brandy, or a sweet pudding white wine
- 50g of unsalted butter, or mild olive oil
- a small handful Parmesan, grated
- black pepper, freshly ground
Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and celery and gently sweat for about 10 mins until really soft. Add the rice and porcini mushrooms and toss to coat in the onions and butter.
Stir the rice into the butter and onion, increase heat to medium to sizzle the rice for 1 min. Add the brandy, then bubble and stir until completely absorbed. Add the rosemary, chestnuts and porcini mushrooms with a ladleful of stock, and stirring continuously. Keep adding the stock one ladle at a time until the rice is tender and has a good creamy consistency this will take 25-30 mins.
Season generously with sea salt and pepper and leave to cool before making into the arancini.
For the Quails Egg Arancini
For this you can use regular eggs in place of quails eggs, if you prefer, but of you can quails eggs are best.
- 12 quails eggs, or 6 hens eggs
- sunflower oil, for frying
- white spelt or gluten free flour, for coating
- 2 eggs, beaten
- sourdough or gluten free breadcrumbs, for coating the arancini
Fill a large bowl bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Once it comes to a simmer, add half the quail eggs. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove them from the pan and place in the iced water. Repeat with the remaining eggs and set aside until cool. Once cold, carefully peel all the eggs.
Take a handful of cold risotto and pat it flat in your palm. Lay an egg in the middle and shape the rice around the outside, gently rolling it between your palms to firm. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Place them on a baking tray in the fridge to chill.
Line up three bowls, the first containing the flour, the second the beaten eggs, and the third the breadcrumbs. One at a time, coat the risotto balls in flour – shaking off any excess – then in egg, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Cover and chill until ready to cook.
Ten minutes before serving, in a large pan, heat the oil to about 170C/340F, or until a cube of bread sizzles and turns golden in 30 seconds. Carefully drop in the risotto balls, 6 at a time, and fry for 4–5 minutes, until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen roll and keep them warm while you cook the rest, then serve.
I serve mine with a few dressed leaves and some smoked chilli tomato sauce. This particular one was Gran Luchito, because I ran out of time to make my own.