My house smelled so good this afternoon and evening. Tonight we celebrated Italy!  I have an uncle who was born in Italy and comes from a large Italian family.  I saw a post on one of my cousin's Facebook page about a dish, Arancini di Riso, she made for her extended family and how much they loved it because it was so authentic.  I immediately bookmarked the recipe with the intent of making it during the Olympics.  On the same site, I came across a recipe for a soup that my grandfather used to call "Pasta Wazoo."  I've made a crock pot version of pasta e figioli before, but this one sounded different so I thought I'd give it a try, too!

The Verdict: The Arancini di Riso were delicious, but very, very rich!  We all enjoyed them, with the exception of the chicken nugget queen, Ebabe.  She liked the rice before it was put in the ball, but for some reason (probably because it was deep fried) she did not like the final product.  These would make an excellent party appetizer.  I've never had Arborio rice before and loved it when I sampled it during the cooking process.  Yummy.  The pasta e figioli was lighter in color than I've ever seen, but very rich and flavorful.  Everyone liked it, although I think the girls like the crock pot version better.

We had enough to package up a care package for a friend's family and provide them with an Italian meal as well.  Knowing my Italian family, this sharing of food is highly encouraged! :)

I sit here exhausted and with a full belly, trying to stay awake to write my post and watch some Olympic snowboarding and ice dancing. That said, I am pretty much copying and pasting the original recipes, with only very minor changes/edits or comments.  I hope you don't mind.  I also have to add a quick, but LARGE thank you to Chip who has been helping me cook, bake, chop, peel, grill, grate, and generally been an awesome cheerleader, tolerating my craziness and helping me provide this experience for our children.

We'll start with the soup, since it takes a little longer.  We made the soup and while it was cooking made the arancini di riso.  We finished them both about the same time.  Perfect!

Pasta e Figioli (original recipe from Lidia's Italy)

You will need:

1 lb dried cannelini beans
4 oz bacon
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Needles from 1 sprig fresh rosemary, (about 1 tablespoon)
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 TBSP tomato paste
2 lbs russet potatoes (about 6-8 potatoes), peeled
2 fresh bay leaves
6 qts cold water
2 TBSP kosher salt
1 lb ditalini pasta
freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

You will need your largest stock pot for this recipe.  Ours wasn't quite large enough to add all 6 qts of water, so I only added 5.  It still tasted good.

Soak the cannellini beans overnight and drain.

Pulse the bacon, garlic, and rosemary in a mini-food processor to make a fine textured paste or ‘pestata’.  We had cooked our bacon first, but I don't think you have to since you cook it in the next step.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot (the largest one you own!). Add the pestata, and cook until bacon has rendered its fat, about 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, make the second pestata (you don’t have to wash the processor) by puréeing the onion and carrot. Add the second pestata to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has dried out and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. 

Scrape the pestata to one side of the pan to clear a “hot spot,” add the tomato paste, and let cook for a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Stir the tomato paste into the pestata, and add the drained beans, the potatoes, and the bay leaves. Pour in the water. 

Bring the soup to a boil, cover, and let cook at a strong simmer until beans and potatoes are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes, uncovering to reduce liquid about halfway through the cooking time. Stir in salt. 

With a large wooden spoon, mash the remaining potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the soup. Return soup to a boil, add the ditalini, and cook until pasta is al dente.  Season to taste.

Serve soup with grated cheese on the top.

Arancini di Riso (original recipe from Lidia's Italy)

You will need:

5 cups chicken stock
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup finely diced ham
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
½ tsp kosher salt, 
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
10 basil leaves, chopped
4 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into about 24 cubes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil, for frying

In a small pot, warm chicken stock over low heat.  In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until onion softens.  Add the ham and cook a few minutes. 

Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the oil/fat.  Pour in the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the wine is almost reduced away. Add 3 cups hot chicken stock and the salt. 

Cover and simmer until the chicken stock is absorbed by the rice, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups stock and recover. Cook until rice is al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes more. 

Uncover, if any liquid remains, increase heat and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, another minute or 2.  (This is when I sampled the rice mixture and it was heavenly!)

Stir in peas and spread rice on a rimmed sheet pan to cool. 

When the rice is cool, put in a bowl and stir in grated cheese and chopped basil.

Scoop out about 1/3 cup rice and put a cube of mozzarella in the center, forming a tight ball around the cheese. You should get about 24 arancini. (Note:  When we made the balls, we estimated 1/3 cup and ended up with much larger balls than we thought.  As a result, we only had 15.)

Spread the flour and breadcrumbs on 2 rimmed plates. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Dredge the arancini in the flour, tapping off the excess. 

Dip them in the beaten egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Roll in breadcrumbs to coat thoroughly. 

In a large, straight-sided skillet, heat 1-inch vegetable oil over medium heat, until the tip of an arancino sizzles on contact. Fry arancini in batches, taking care not to crowd the skillet, turning on all sides, until golden, about 3 minutes per batch. 

Drain on paper towels and season with salt while still warm.

Here's what the inside looks like...

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