BROWN RICE SPINACH ARANCINI W/ ROASTED VEGETABLES & RUSTIC MARINARA
I wound up in the Bridgeport neighborhood twice over the weekend and remembered that there are wonderful neighborhoods in Chicago where people just live. And probably do so beyond their twenties. They are filled with modest homes that probably house modest and good people, rather than refurbished warehouse lofts in a neighborhood that makes one's identity complete. Gio's fits in very well with that setting. I'm pretty sure at one point the restaurant was just a small convenience store that specialized in Italian foodstuffs, but they've cleared away the center aisles for some checkered tablecloths. The shelves full of canned sardines and pizzelles still flank the sides of the place so you feel like you're eating in a convenience store (in an awesome way). The glass deli counter is still the back with their specials posted on a whiteboard above it.
Go to Gio's. The food was as awesome as the space, waitresses, and other diners who you can tell have been stopping in for years. Try lots of appetizers like the grilled calamari and octopus, but especially the arancini.
It just so happens that I had lots of leftover brown rice from the Korean Tofu Rice Bowls, so I wanted to try an arancini recipe with some modifications. Traditionally, arancini uses risotto and lots of parmesan and is deep-fried to give it that satisfying crunchy/creamy combo, so this is a slightly lighter version that was more like a rice patty. I stuffed mine with spinach, but you could certainly use cooked ground pork, beef, or Italian sausage.
Ingredients (makes 10 arancini patties):
- 1 1/2-2 cups cold, cooked brown rice
- 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs (plus more for rolling)
- 1/4 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. basil, finely chopped
- 1 large "ovolini" ball of fresh mozzarella (4 oz.), finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. cumin
- pinch of allspice
- 2 cups sauteed & pureed spinach (I cook mine with salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice)
- 3/4 onion, finely chopped (use the remainder from the arancini)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 3 roma tomato (or whatever tomatoes you have around), roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 large can of whole, stewed tomato
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 eggplant
- 1 zucchini
- 1 yellow squash
Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
In a frying pan, heat a little olive oil and add the spinach to cook down. When softened, add a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Cook until much of the water evaporates and it comes together, but don't brown. Remove from pan and set aside. Puree in a food processor when cool.
In the same pan, prepare the sauce. Chop an onion and 3 cloves of garlic in a food processor, setting about 1/4 aside for the arancini. Put the remainder in the pan with 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat. Salt and cook until softened, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop your tomatoes and add them to the pan when ready. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook down into a paste. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Add the canned tomato, crushing them in your hands, along with the juices from the can and the stock. Bring to a boil and add the tomato paste to thicken. Add the sugar to counter some of the acidity. Continue to simmer over low heat.
Slice the eggplant, zucchini, and squash length-wise and place them on an aluminum foil-lined baking pan. Lightly oil, salt, and pepper the vegetables and roast in the oven until browned, flipping halfway. I actually used quite a large eggplant, so I roughly diced the leftovers and added it to the marinara.
Finally, mix all the ingredients (except the spinach) for the arancini. It will be a wet mix. Make a thin patty in your palm with about a 1.5 inch diameter. Add a 1/2 tsp. of the spinach and top with another small dollop of the rice mixture. Pinch the sides to enclose the spinach and roll into a ball. Roll the ball in a layer of breadcrumbs then flatten into a patty.