The thing about carbs, is something truly marvelous happens when you combine them with fat and heat. Take the humble potato. Slice and deep-fry it and they turn a golden crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft awesomeness on the inside. My ideal nibble is probably home-made mayonnaise and a bowl of French fries, or as we call them here in Sefafrika, chips. Or maybe not…
A recent invitation to dine at Bistro 1682 on the Steenberg wine estate may just have changed my mind. Taking it’s name from the date Steenberg was established, Bistro 1682 is a gorgeously chic establishment in which to enjoy breakfast or lunch. But I wasn’t there to do either. I was there to sample their late afternoon/early evening tapas menu. One associates tapas with Spanish food but Chef Brad Ball, of River Café and Café Olympia fame, gave June an Italian theme.
We feasted on quail with rosemary and olives accompanied by a rather lovely Nebbiolo. Mussels in a tomato broth. Seared beef with chilli. And then my favourite of the evening – no prizes for guessing it’s starch – deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with taleggio cheese. The Sicilians call them arancini, which means little oranges. I call them moreish. I realized just how good Chef Brad’s were when I ordered risotto balls at another restaurant two days later – and got an oil-soaked stodgy mess. And that got me thinking. Just how hard can it be to make these and make them well? Turns out it’s rather easy. Were mine as good as Brad’s? I don’t know, I may just have to visit Bistro 1682 again to compare. And I’ll probably have to pop in again in July too because it’s Chinese ‘tapas’ month. Doenjiang-braised beef short ribs with star anise. Sticky pork belly with palm sugar caramel, charred sweetcorn and mint… I’m there like a bear.
Until next time
More about Bistro 1682:
Tapas are served from 16:30-20:00. This is not a romantic spot for a quiet meal for two. It’s stylish and vibey, perfect for a quick meal with mates after work and an absolutely delightful way to start the weekend. And here’s the deal, for the winter months they have a special on that gives you two tapas and a glass of wine for just R120.
All you need is…
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
1 cup risotto rice (Arborio)
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups hot chicken stock (use home-made or good quality liquid stock concentrate like Nomu Fond or Ina Paarman’s)
¼ cup grated fresh parmesan or pecorino cheese
1 medium onion, very finely chopped (use your food processor)
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ tsp fresh rosemary, very finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
packet of salted crackers, crushed to resemble fine bread crumbs (I used the rosemary crackers from Woolworths)
1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil for deep frying
Heat 2 tbs oil and 1 tbs butter in a heavy-base frying pan. Once the oil is warm, add the risotto rice and stir-fry for two minutes. Add the wine and cook for a minute. Now add the hot chicken stock half a cup at a time. This is not a puppy you can walk away from, you need to stir it throughout the cooking process. Make sure all the liquid has been absorbed before you add the next cup. (Very NB, you need to cook this over a medium-low heat. If your plate’s too hot, the rice will cook on the outside and start collapsing while it’s still rock-hard inside. Perfect risotto is creamy with a slight al dente firmness in the middle.)
Once all the stock has been absorbed, remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. Taste for salt and give it a grinding of fresh black pepper. Scoop risotto onto a large plate to help it cool down faster. Once it’s reached room temperature, you can pop it in the fridge for an hour or two to firm up. (You can see why leftover risotto is so handy, so next time you make it, make double with a view to arancini the next day!) For the filling, melt the butter in the oil and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes over a medium-low heat. Now add the garlic and rosemary and fry for a minute. Then add 3tbs water, turn the heat right down, place the lid on and cook until the onions are glistening, soft and sweet.
Once your risotto is ice cold and set, you can make the balls. There are many ways of doing this, but my clingfilm trick makes it foolproof! Simply take one tbs of risotto and shape it into a ball. Repeat with another tbs so you have two equal-sized balls. Make a slight indent in the middle of each ball with your thumb. Place a bit of onion and a small block of cheese in the one indentation. Place the other ball (indentation-side down) over the ball holding the filling. Squeeze together lightly. Now place this ball in a square of cling film and twist it to close. The more you twist, the tighter the ball will be compressed, ensuring there is no chance of it falling apart during frying! Unwrap and smooth out any of the plastic press marks. Roll ball in flour and shake off excess, dip into egg and then roll it in the biscuit crumbs. Repeat until you have used all the risotto and filling. Chill balls in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up again. Then deep-fry over a medium heat until the balls are crisp on the outside and the cheese melted on the inside. Serve warm with a warm tomato-basil sauce (see below) for dipping.