As I write this, I am wearing a thick jumper and sitting under a blanket, having just put the heating on. Earlier, rain fell on our skylight so heavily, the dog jumped up as if we were being invaded. I changed my schedule this morning so I could bake, just to take advantage of the oven’s warmth. It certainly doesn’t feel like sunny days are in our near future.

I’ve read that the last year has felt warped time-wise, that it’s been hard to form memories that stick in the usual way, because we don’t have the events, the change in daily routine, the hooks onto which we peg our days, our weeks, our minds. So perhaps it’s not surprising that given the events of the last year, combined with the cold snap that it seems implausible that Spring is here and Summer is coming.

I have just about made peace with the fact that as an Englishwoman I won’t be sunning my face anywhere more exotic than Salford this year, and that my options are limited to pub gardens or my own garden. I feel militant about embracing this: that while my options are limited, I need to be proactive about the outside life. I am prepared to insist on every meal being in the garden, irrespective of goosebumps, bolshy pigeons, or apocalyptic rain. I’m ready to count the orange in my aperol spritz as one of my five a day, and I don’t even like aperol spritz. If I can’t get myself to those balmy Italian evenings, those balmy Italian evenings are going to have to come to me.

But I’m no fool: this is England, after all. If we’re going to embrace this peculiar period that demands socializing outdoors, that pays no heed to the realities of our weather forecast, then we’re going to need more than a beer jacket and an actual jacket. We’re going to need reinforcements. We’re going to need hot snacks.

And I know just the thing: crunchy and salty, hot and gooey, and stuffed with carbs and cheese, it’s hard to imagine something that is better suited to outside drinking and snacking than arancini.

One of the greatest culinary sadnesses is that you cannot adequately reheat risotto. It simply doesn’t work (believe me, I’ve tried, despite it being a point on which the internet and the wider world are in agreement). All that effort to make something so delicious, that you can’t freeze or fridge or reheat. But if risotto takes away with one hand, it gives with the other, in the form of arancini. Arancini is risotto which has been rolled into balls, breaded and then deep-fried, and they are the finest accompaniment to an outdoors, summer drink known to man.

Arancini hail from Sicily, and their name literally means ‘little orange’, referencing their golf-ball size and shape. However, in Sicily, they are often made with a tomatoey-meat ragu filling, and these arancini al ragu are shaped into little cones, supposedly to imitate Mount Etna.

You can use whatever risotto you have for arancini — indeed, the point of it is to use up that cold risotto which you cannot reheat — this is the most popular in our house, but any risotto that stands still long enough around me will be rolled into balls and fried. Whatever the filling, I like to add mozzarella, which has the dual function of binding the filling as well as making it irresistibly gooey and stringy.

If you want to get ahead, you can roll the risotto balls and leave them in the fridge to firm up or you can even (and this is deeply inauthentic, and probably breaking a thousand international culinary laws), fry in advance and heat them in a warm oven to recrisp the outside and ensure the interior are gooey and stringy.

arancini

Arancini

Makes: 15 arancini

Takes: 20 minutes

Bakes: No time at all

17½ oz leftover, cold risotto

3½ oz mozzarella, cut into 15 equal pieces

⅓ oz plain flour

2 eggs

5¼ oz breadcrumbs (I like panko breadcrumbs)

50 fl oz vegetable oil, for frying

  1. With damp hands, take about two tablespoons of risotto and flatten it against the palm of one of your hands. Place one of the pieces of mozzarella in the center of the rice, and cup the rice around it, completely covering the cheese Gently roll the risotto to form a neat ball. Set down on a tray, and repeat with the remaining risotto and mozzarella
  2. Place the vegetable oil in a large pan, over a medium heat. Exercise caution when deep-frying, keep children and pets out of the way, don’t leave the oil unattended at any point, and never fill a pan more than half way up with oil. Bring up to 350°F, which should take 10-15 minutes
  3. Crack the eggs into one dish, place the flour into another dish, and the breadcrumbs into a third.
  4. Using only your dominant hand (keep the other hand clean, trust me), dredge a risotto ball through the flour, followed by the egg and, finally, the breadcrumbs – make sure at each stage it is thoroughly coated. Set the covered risotto ball on a tray, and repeat with the remaining balls
  5. When the oil is at temperature and your balls are coated, fry in batches of 5-6 for four minutes, gently turning the balls using a heatproof slotted spoon, until they are golden brown. Remove from the oil, and place on kitchen paper to drain. Repeat with remaining risotto balls
  6. Pile up in a little serving dish, sprinkle generously with flakey salt, and serve while still warm

This article was originally published on Spectator Life.