The thing is, though, I have been trying to further limit animal products from my meals, and even toyed briefly with the idea of going vegan at least part-time. The environmental impact of the production of animal products is hard to ignore, and seeing Food, Inc. a couple weeks ago has planted the issue squarely in the forefront of my mind once again. So here I am, again, trying to find ways to improve my family's consumption habits, while being limited by both finances and my fascination with cheese.
A little over a year ago, I began sourcing locally-produced raw milk, feta cheese and chevre, and eggs from Athens Locally Grown, which eased my concerns considerably, but still left some glaring inconsistencies when I continued to insist on purchasing other imported cheeses. And then, obviously, the recession entrenched itself a little more deeply into my wallet and I found myself holding my nose and again buying $0.99/dozen supermarket eggs.
Which all brings me back to my initial question. Can I go vegan? Well, no.
I don't wanna. Because it all comes back to my love of cheese, and the small fact that I am drawn, nay magnetically-lured, to recipes that include the words 'stuffed' and 'cheese' in the title. I mean, I live for that kind of thing. I'll toss hot, fresh pasta with handfuls of blue cheese, stir copious amounts of cheddar into grits, broil a layer of Parmesan on the top of my frittatas and casseroles, and knead grated Romano into my bread doughs.
A meal without cheese is rare around here, indeed, which brings me to the picture at the top of this post. A couple years back, when flipping through an issue of Vegetarian Times, I came across a recipe for Mozzarella-Stuffed Arancini. I had never before had arancini, and hadn't a clue how to pronounce it [ah-rahn-CHEE-nee, as it turns out), but I couldn't ignore that key phrase of 'mozzarella-stuffed.'
So I tried it, of course, and it was love at first bite. These things are downright addictive. Arancini, if you've never had it, are little Italian rice balls that are rolled in crispy breadcrumbs and filled with any number of stuffings (mostly meat and cheese), and are then typically fried. In this particular recipe though, the arancini are not made with meat and are baked instead of fried.
Even prepared this way (hereinafter referred to as the 'won't-kill-you' way), they're still crispy on the outside and melty on the inside and just chock full of flavor, and they still remain frighteningly high in fat.
They are a slight pain to prepare, especially if you don't like to get your fingers sticky, and every time I make these I swear I'll never do it again. But then I eat one these little hunks of heaven, biting through the crisp exterior to get to the moist, richly-flavored rice that surrounds the core of stringy, melted mozzarella, and I forget all about the hassle, and then I end up making them again within a week. They're that good.
MOZZARELLA-STUFFED ARANCINI (serves 6, adapted from Vegetarian Times)
A few things to note: this is no time to scrimp on the mozzarella - store brand will not work. Buy the gourmet fresh mozzarella from the deli or the fancy cheese section. Also, the rice is a crucial component, and cooking it in water will yield too bland a taste. Go for the broth.
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 Tbs butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup grated Romano cheese
- 2 cups whole-wheat breadcrumbs
- 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into approx. 3/4" x 3/4" pieces
- 1/8 cup olive oil
- approx. 28 oz marinara sauce (I love these with my favorite spicy marinara sauce)
- In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Add the rice, butter and salt. Cover the pan, reduce heat, and simmer for 40-50 minutes, until broth is absorbed. Set aside until rice is cool.
- Grease two large, heavy baking pans, and preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Fold green onions, eggs, parsley and cheese into rice.
- Spread some of the breadcrumbs on a large plate (as you work, add more breadcrumbs to the plate as needed).
- Place about 1/4 cup of rice mixture into palm of hand, form into a ball, and press piece of mozzarella into the middle. Coat ball with breadcrumbs (you can sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the ball in your hand, and flip ball as needed, or, alternatively, roll ball in breadcrumbs on plate). Place ball on greased baking sheet, and repeat with remaining rice, cheese and breadcrumbs. Leave a little space between balls on baking sheet, and just push back together with your fingers if they start to fall apart when they are placed on the sheet. Perfection is impossible here.
- Sprinkle bald spots with any leftover breadcrumbs, and drizzle rice balls with olive oil.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until outsides are brown and crisp.
- Warm marinara sauce, and ladle onto large serving platter. Place arancini on top of sauce, and serve immediately.
Note: leftovers can be drizzled with a little additional olive oil and re-warmed in the oven at 350 degrees.