Due Lire, Three Aces fry up Italian rice

February 18, 2011 12:22:39 PM PST
Arancini, Italian rice balls, are showing up on menus around town.

Most Italian restaurants offer some type of risotto, which is, at its root, a marriage of Arborio rice with chicken or vegetable stock. But take that a few steps further, as they do at Due Lire in Lincoln Square, and you've got arancini.

"Arancini is basically a way to use up old rice from the previous day; roll it into a ball and fry it," said Due Lire chef Kevin Abshire.

Abshire first makes his risotto, laced with saffron threads, which turn it a bright yellow, then adding chopped asparagus; he slowly adds chicken stock so the rice absorbs the liquid.

"It's creamy. It has a lot of starch content and it's a slow process, ladle by ladle, stock, and that's how you develop the creaminess is developing starch," he said.

Once it's cooled, he forms the rice into orbs the size of baseballs, stuffed with a small knob of fontina cheese. The balls are dredged in flour, dunked in eggs and rolled in breadcrumbs before being fried for about five minutes. They're plated over a shallow pool of cheesy fonduta, containing heavy cream and grated nutmeg.

"You can never have enough cheese. Just a little extra goo in it so when you bite into it," said Abshire.

In Little Italy, the new Three Aces looks like just another bar along Taylor Street from the outside, but the menu has aspirations deep within the Italian repertoire. One of the highlights, an arancini appetizer.

"I use fontina cheese and oxtail, which are both pretty traditional for arancini, I just arrange them a little differently," said Chef Matthew Troost.

Troost uses vegetable stock with his rice.. and once it cools, he forms it into golfball-sized arancini - stuffed with fontina - then dredged in flour, dunked in eggs and rolled in panko breadcrumbs. A skillet of slowly-braised oxtail, along with that braising liquid and a bit of butter is plated beneath the trio of arancini..which also get a few celery leaves for garnish, followed by a generous shower of parmesan.

"A little bit of freshness on the plate, because you have the richness of the oxtail, the richness of the fontina cheese inside the risotto, so that's just adds a little bit of a counterpoint," he said.

So there is no definitive size or accompanying sauce for arancini. It is simply risotto that's been cooled, coated and then fried into deliciousness.

Due Lire
4520 Lincoln Ave

Three Aces
1321 W Taylor St