One thing that I’ve learned over the past year is how to not waste as much food. I’ve learned how to be creative with leftovers and scraps to make sure that I’m making the best use out of what I have on hand. It sounds silly that I’m only coming to this realization recently, right? But pre-pandemic I would just go to the store for anything at any time and didn’t think about how to use what I already had at home or what I would do with the leftovers. After being laid off for a few months early in the pandemic, I learned how to make the best use out of everything and be less wasteful, and it’s a skill that I really value. Food waste has seriously become one of my biggest pet peeves!
This past weekend, I had a family zoom dinner and the theme was risotto. I have no idea how to make risotto for one person, so of course I ended up with enough risotto to feed an entire family plus some. I ate leftover risotto for a couple days and then decided it was about time to turn it into something fun! So I opened up my fridge and used as many leftovers and scraps as I could with some regular pantry ingredients! I had a package of tomatoes that were about to be past their prime, a bell pepper that was starting to wrinkle, basil that was starting to wilt, eggs, breadcrumbs, garlic and of course a container of risotto left. Time to make Arancini!
Arancini is an Italian appetizer of deep fried rice balls stuffed with cheese. It’s the perfect way to use up leftover risotto. Now I wouldn’t go out of my way to make risotto just to make Arancini, because a bowl of fresh risotto is amazing, and because it has to be cold and set to be able to roll it properly, so it has to sit anyways. If you happen to have leftovers, this is such a fun way to transform them!
In my case, I had made an asparagus and mushroom risotto with a pea and basil puree. I didn’t have any mozzarella on hand, so this Arancini dish isn’t stuffed. If you have cheese though, you can put a cube in each ball and you will have a real melty treat! Basically all you have to do is take your leftover risotto (any flavour you made, get wild!), roll them into little balls, flour them, egg them and bread them! They’re normally fried in hot oil, but I love my air fryer – it’s easier, uses almost no oil and I can still get them nice and crispy! These turn out crunchy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside. Yum! But if you prefer to deep fry, go for it!
Now you can serve these with store-bought marinara sauce to dip if you like. And yes, these need a dipping sauce! But since I had tomatoes and a pepper to use up, I decided to whip up my own! Making your own marinara sauce is quick and easy with the help of a food processor, and a great way to use up leftover veggies. I roasted my tomatoes, garlic and pepper and then simply blended it up with basil, chili flakes and olive oil, and voila! Homemade marinara sauce! My sauce turned out yellow because my tomatoes were yellow and so was my pepper, but honestly I think it’s pretty and a fun change from the traditional red sauce! Once it’s done, you can store it an airtight container for a few days, freeze it, can it, or just serve it right away! It’s great as a dipping sauce, a spread, or for quick pasta dishes. Multi-use foods are my favourite! You can also adjust the seasoning to make it as spicy or as herby as you like.
These are traditionally served as an appetizer, but I don’t see why you can’t eat them as a lunch or dinner with a salad on the side. You can store them in the fridge, or even freeze them, and simply reheat them in the oven until they’re crispy again. The sauce can just be reheated on the stove. If you have lots of veggies or herbs in your fridge to use up, you can easily add them into the risotto or sauce to make good use of them. This is really a great way to “kitchen sink”! You can spice them however you like, make as many as you like depending on how much leftover risotto you have, use whatever flavour of risotto, or stuff them with whatever cheese you have on hand! It’s a super versatile dish!
This is the perfect use for leftover risotto and veggies:
- Quick and easy to make with the use of leftover risotto;
- You can use whatever kind of risotto you have on hand to change the flavour up;
- You can switch up the herbs, the veggies and the dipping sauce;
- The marinara sauce is make ahead friendly and can also be used as a pasta sauce or spread and can be canned or frozen;
- You can adjust the seasonings and spices to your taste;
- You get to refresh your leftovers in a creative and non wasteful way;
- Easily adjustable to be vegetarian (no parmesan), or vegan (skip the egg wash and use vegan risotto);
- Crispy on the outside, but soft, creamy and flavourful on the inside;
- Extra flavorful when dipped into a spicy, roasted marinara sauce;
- A perfect appetizer or lunch;
Arancini (Air Fryer) w/ Roasted Tomato and Pepper Marinara
Makes 8 Arancini and 2 cups of Marinara
Roasted Tomato and Pepper Marinara sauce:
- 0.5 pounds of tomatoes, sliced into halves or quarters if they are big – use whatever tomatoes you have on hand!
- 1 bell pepper, cut into quarters
- 3 cloves of garlic, kept whole
- Basil, to taste
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Chili flakes, to taste
- Olive Oil, 1 tbsp to drizzle, and 2-3 tbsp. for blending
- 2 cups leftover risotto
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup AP flour
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned with salt & pepper)
- Optional: extra veggies or herbs, 8 cubes of cheese for stuffing if you have on hand
- Grated parmesan (if not vegetarian or vegan)
- Extra herbs for sprinkling
Start by making the marinara sauce. Preheat the oven to 400 fht. Spread the tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic cloves onto a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until the veggies are soft and starting to get dark.
Put the roasted veggies and garlic (including any juices on the pan) into a blender or food processor. Add basil leaves (or other herbs), salt, pepper and chili flakes (I like it spicy so I add lots in, but spice it to your preference). Begin blending. While it’s blending, drizzle in olive oil until it’s smooth and has reached your preferred consistency.
If you choose, you can also peel your tomatoes, but I choose not to.
At this point, you can either serve it fresh, or store it in the fridge and reheat when you’re ready to use. You can also make this sauce way ahead of time and freeze it or can it and simply reheat. This sauce can also be used as a quick pasta sauce or spread.
Now to make the Arancini, begin by preparing 3 bowls. One with the flour, one with the beaten eggs, and one with the breadcrumbs.
Now roll the cold, leftover risotto into 8 balls. You can make them smaller or bigger if you like to make more or less! You can also use whatever flavour of risotto you have. If you have mozzarella on hand, feel free to put a cube in the middle of each one for an extra taste bud explosion surprise!
Dip each risotto ball into the flour, then the eggs, and then the breadcrumbs, gently tapping them after each dip to remove any excess dredge. Once they are all breaded, put them in the fridge to set for a few minutes while you preheat your air fryer. Alternatively, you can also preheat your deep fry oil if you go that route!
Preheat your air fryer to 400 fht. Spray the basket with oil and cook the Arancini for 10 minutes, until hot and brown and crispy on the outside.
Serve with the marinara sauce for dipping, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and torn up basil (or other herbs you have!)
Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat in the oven until crispy.