Since 2018, I’ve been doing an annual oatmeal challenge called #28daysofoatmeal on Instagram each February, where for each day of the month I share a different way to serve up your daily oats (spoiler: oatmeal, if you like it savory, is a terrific vessel for your leftovers). This has resulted in cooking a lot of steel-cut oats, and these arancini came about from frequently having leftover oatmeal in the fridge and noting that it gels up when it cools in a similar way that leftover risotto does. I don’t often make oatmeal specifically for the arancini; it’s more often that the leftovers can be brilliantly put to use like this. Cook- ing the oats in half milk and half water roughly mimics the arancini style of combining the risotto with bechamel to create a creamier consistency in the grains. While you can take all kinds of liberties with your fillings, I focus on cheese here, because it’s so easy and plays to the subtle nuttiness of the oats. One note: You can’t make these with rolled or quick-cooking oats; it’s got to be the steel-cut ones.
- In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil or butter over medium heat, then add the oats and toast them for a few minutes, swirling the pan often, until fragrant and darkened a shade. Pour in the water and milk and bring to a simmer. Stir in the salt, then partially cover the pan, lower the heat to achieve a gentle simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes, until the oats are tender and the mixture is thick. Cool, scrape into an airtight container, and refrigerate overnight. If you’re in a rush, you can spread the oatmeal out on a baking sheet and cool it down in the refrigerator for an hour, but they’ll thicken best, and be easiest to work with, if chilled overnight.
- When you’re ready to make the arancini, create a little assembly station: Place the flour, egg, and bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Season each of the three bowls with a pinch of salt and pepper, and whisk the egg until it’s an even consistency.
- Scoop a heaping tablespoon of oatmeal into the palm of your hand, flattening it out slightly, and place a cheese cube in its center. Take another similarly sized spoonful of oats and sand- wich it on top. Then cup the oatmeal between both your hands and shape it into a ball about 2 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining oats, arranging them on a small baking sheet or plate as you go.
- In a medium saucepan or Dutch oven—something with high walls to protect against splatter— heat about 3/4 inch of olive oil. You want to bring it to 375°F, and if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, leave the oil to simmer for about 10 minutes over medium heat. You can test its temperature by dropping in a little dab of oatmeal: if it doesn’t sizzle immediately, it needs more time.
- Meanwhile, dredge each of the rolled arancini through the flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Be sure to coat thoroughly, but also be sure to shake off the excess at each stage. It helps to dedicate one hand to the dipping and breading, while keeping the other one dry and clean. Arrange the breaded arancini back on the plate.
- Once the oil is hot, add the breaded arancini to the oil in batches of 3 (to avoid dramatically lowering the temperature of the oil) and shallow-fry them until browned all over, turning often, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to drain and let cool for a few minutes before eating.
- Reheat leftover arancini in a preheated 350°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Lukas Volger is a cookbook author and editor. He co-founded Jarry, an award-winning queer food journal, and his most recent book is Start Simple. For more information, visit lukasvolger.com or @lukasvolger on Instagram.