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extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 quart for deep frying (I use Greek extra-virgin olive oil for cooking)
onion, finely diced
clove of garlic, minced
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
pomarola (aka straight pureed, jarred tomatoes)
lightly salted water or vegetable broth (if you’re feeling guilty about not using broth, remember that Gualtiero Marchesi himself made his risotto with salted water)
grana cheese, grated
salt and pepper
raw fine bread crumbs
mozzarella cheese, cubed into ½-inch pieces(this is an approximation—no need to pull out a ruler)
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This is a classic recipe for a classic dish, but don’t let the recipe get in the way of your imagination. It’s a great thing to make with any leftover risotto you might have. Or, do as the modern Romans do—mix and match historic pasta flavors into the risotto, like cacio e pepe or carbonara.
- Gently sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil, with a pinch of salt, for 5-7 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the rice and the parsley, swirling them around in the oil for a few minutes.
- Add the tomato puree and cook all together gently, stirring—not madly but somewhat steadily. Add seasoned water or broth in ½ cup increments as needed. The stirring keeps the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot, and it helps release the starch, which will make it all hold together when it comes time to form the croquettes.
- Toward the end of cooking, when the liquid has been absorbed, add the grated grana cheese. Adjust the salt as needed. Spread the risotto out onto a sheet pan to cool down to room temperature. Make three trays for breading—one with flour, one with beaten eggs, and one with bread crumbs. Take a large spoonful of the cooled rice and pat it out in the palm of your hand to a somewhat even thickness and shape.
- Add a piece of mozzarella and pat the rice around it, totally encasing the cheese. Dip your fingers or hands in a little water to really smooth out the surface, and make sure it’s well sealed and compact. Form into an oblong shape. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have formed all the croquettes, dip them one at a time in the flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Then dip again in egg and bread crumbs, and finally, lay them out on a cooling rack to dry out a bit (double breading them makes for a particularly sturdy crust that should protect the creamy filling as it cooks). Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (you’ll need about 4 inches of oil).
- Fry the croquettes in a single layer, letting them get golden all the way around. Put them on a clean cooling rack, sprinkle them with a little sea salt, and let them sit in a warm(350ºF) oven for 10-15 minutes, so the cheese in the middle can get completely melted. Serve and eat immediately!
Sara Jenkins is the chef owner of Nina June in Rockport, ME and also owns, with her brother, an olive farm in Tuscany where she never gets to spend enough time.