Sample text for Small bites, big nights : seductive little plates for intimate occasions and lavish parties / Govind Armstrong with Ann Wycoff and Alison Clare Steingold ; photographs by Lisa Romerein ; foreword by Tyler Florence.

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wild mushroom risotto balls / burrata / scallion oil
Serves 8
Difficulty: Medium

When you give love and attention to a pot of risotto to make arancini, the legendary street food of Sicily, it's like paying homage to each grain of rice. Meaning "little orange" in Italian (no doubt a play on the stuffed croquettes' size and saffron-tinged color), arancini are equally suitable for a midmorning pick-me-up or a late-night nibble. Here, a crispy, golden double coating of panko crust gives way to creamy mushroom risotto with a surprise of melted, oozing burrata cheese. You can save a step here by buying scallion oil at the grocer if it's available.

Scallion Oil

2 scallions, thinly sliced (Basil and garlic oil will also work in lieu of scallion.)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

Wild Mushroom Risotto
3 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced thin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grapeseed or canola oil
3 button mushrooms, stems removed and sliced thin
3 chanterelle mushrooms, stems shaved and torn in shreds
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
4 cups chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup Carnaroli rice
2 tablespoons finely diced onion
1 medium garlic clove
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white wine (preferably sauvignon blanc)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Vegetable oil, for frying
12 ounces burrata cheese*, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups Panko Dustin' Mix (see below)
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

*Substitute mozzarella, Monterey Jack, gouda, or any cheese that will melt as gooily as possible.

To prepare the scallion oil, place the scallions and grapeseed oil into a mortar and pestle. Coarsely grind the scallions until the oil has picked up the flavor and is emerald green in color. Allow it to steep in the oil, and reserve for garnish.

In a hot saute pan over medium-high heat, saute the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the grapeseed oil. Be careful not to move them around; you want to get a little color on one side. Season with salt and pepper, then flip and gently saute the other side. This should take approximately 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the mushrooms to cool. Coarsely chop them and set aside.

To prepare the risotto, bring the stock to a boil in a small sauce pot and set aside. In a medium, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and the Carnaroli rice. Begin to stir the rice with a wooden spoon, coating and heating it in the oil--but not forming any color. Once the rice is completely warm to the touch but not toasted or colored, add the onion, garlic clove, thyme, and bay leaf, stirring constantly. Cook the vegetables until translucent, stirring all the while, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce for 45 seconds, or until dry. Begin adding the stock, 1/4 cup at a time while stirring, and add the next 1/4 cup only after the preceding has been fully absorbed. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to medium; after an additional 10 minutes, add a pinch of salt. Continue to cook and add the stock until the rice is perfectly al dente, or about 25 minutes total cooking time. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese, and season again with salt and pepper. Stir very well until incorporated. Add the chopped mushrooms, then spread the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Smooth it out with a spatula, and refrigerate until cool.

While the risotto is cooling, heat 2 inches of frying oil in a small sauce pot until it reaches 350°F.

Get a bowl of water ready for your hands, because this will get messy. Moisten your hands and, like a sushi god, make 2-tablespoon portions of all the risotto and set aside. Place a portion of the rice in the palm of your hand, and flatten it into a fairly thin circle. Tuck a cheese cube firmly inside, squeeze it in, and then wrap around to make a nice rounded ball. You will need to continually wash your hands in order to prepare all the risotto balls.

Dip each wild mushroom risotto ball into the panko mix, then the egg wash, and back into the panko again. Fry in batches for approximately 2 1/2 minutes, or until the bubbles begin to subside and the balls are nice and golden. Remove the risotto balls from the oil, season with salt, and drain on paper towels, allowing them to rest for 1 minute. Serve hot with a drizzle of scallion oil.

Panko Dustin' Mix
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Difficulty: Easy

2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped thyme

Finely grind the panko in a food processor. Mix all the ingredients together, and store in an airtight container.

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