Latkes may be ubiquitous at Hanukkah here in the United States, but almost anything deep-fried is fair game, from Israeli jelly doughnuts to Spanish cheese fritters to whatever other tidbits one feels like browning in a good amount of bubbling oil.
Though they are not so common today, sweet rice fritters studded with raisins and pine nuts were what Italian Jews set on their holiday tables.
I found this out from the second volume of Edda Servi Machlin’s wonderful book “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews,” published in 1992, which I was flipping through looking for new Hanukkah ideas.
The rice fritters are vaguely reminiscent of arancini, the classic Sicilian fried rice balls, except they are pancake flat rather than orange round (arancia is Italian for orange). In place of the savory cheese and meat ragù that oozes from the center of a hot arancini, the rice fritters are filled with those raisins and pine nuts, scented with lemon zest, and dusted with cinnamon sugar for an altogether sweeter experience.
What the two dishes have in common is the nubby soft bits of rice encased in a crisp fried shell, which can be as texturally thrilling as the brittle strands of potato in a latke.
For this recipe, I merged the two dishes into one. I kept the spherical form and molten cheese character of an arancini, but nixed the meat ragù in favor of the sweet raisin filling of the fritters.
A bonus: You can cook the rice a day ahead, and roll the rice balls up to four hours before frying. And, although they are at their gooiest served within minutes of frying, they still taste great an hour or two later.
Arancini With Brandy-Soaked Raisins
Time: 1 1/2 hours; yield: About 22 rice balls
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups Arborio rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
5 ounces Parmesan, grated (1 1/4 cups)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
2 large eggs
1/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups plain dried bread crumbs or panko
3 ounces fontina cheese, coarsely grated
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated
Grapeseed or safflower oil, as needed
Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook with a pinch of salt until softened, 7 to 10 minutes.
Stir in broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add rice and reduce heat to medium; simmer rice until it is al dente, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid (there won’t be much liquid left). Transfer rice to a bowl.
Rinse out the pot and return it to medium heat. Stir in the butter and cook until foaming; whisk in 2 tablespoons flour. Cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk in the reserved rice cooking liquid and the milk, a little at a time, until fully incorporated, then whisk in Parmesan. Season with thyme, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.
Fold the milk mixture in with the rice; taste and add more salt if needed. Let cool completely, then mix in the eggs. If you’re not frying the rice immediately, cover the pan and refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours.
Warm the brandy in a small pot or microwave; stir in the raisins and soak 20 minutes. Drain.
Place remaining 4 tablespoons flour (1/4 cup) in a small bowl; slowly whisk in 1/2 cup water until a smooth slurry forms. Place bread crumbs in a separate bowl. In another bowl, mix together the fontina and mozzarella.
Scoop 1/4 cup of the rice mixture into your hands and form into a flat disk. Place several raisins and heaping teaspoon of cheese into the center of each patty. Mold the rice around the filling to fully enclose it and roll between your palms to form a ball (try not to get any cheese on the exterior of the ball). Dip the ball in the slurry, then into the panko mixture, rolling it around to make sure it is well coated. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. (You can refrigerate the balls for up to 4 hours if you don’t want to cook them immediately.)
When ready to fry, fill a pot with several inches of grapeseed oil and heat until a drop of water added to the pan sizzles (about 375 degrees on a thermometer). Working in batches, lower a few rice balls into the oil at a time and fry, turning occasionally, until uniformly golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and immediately season with salt. Serve immediately.