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These Pimento Cheese Arancini make a great party appetizer. Creamy risotto & pimento cheese balls are fried until golden & delicious!
About a month ago, I was invited to attend a media happy hour at Park Kitchen here in Portland. Even though it’s relatively close to my work, and even on my way home, I’d never thought about stopping in. Actually, Park Kitchen wasn’t even on my radar – But now I can’t wait to go back.
Their concept doesn’t go after a certain role – You’ll find dishes of all kinds here. Southern influenced, vegan dishes, and of course, there are plenty of Northwest-inspired ingredients. I love that their happy hour menu doesn’t leave you feeling stuffed and greasy afterwards. Instead, the dishes here take on a lighter-style – There’s a barley salad with smoked beets and goat cheese, the fries are made from chickpeas rather than potatoes and served with a roasted squash ketchup, and the charred brussels with ginger are not to be missed.
But, one of the favorite dishes I tried from their menu were the Pimento Cheese Arancini. Pretty much they took two of my favorite appetizers and rolled them into one – Pimento Cheese, that creamy, tangy, cheesy spread of the South combines with Arancini, those crispy coated, risotto balls of Italy. Two dishes that couldn’t be further apart combine so wonderfully in these Pimento Cheese Arancini. Really? Who wouldn’t love a ball of rice, stuffed with cheese and then fried to golden perfection?
I set out to recreate them at home – First, mixing together a bit of pimento cheese, but adding in a bit more pimento and spices than I normally would, so that its flavors wouldn’t get lost amongst all that creamy risotto. And then, was the risotto – I wanted to make things as easy as possible. As much as I generally love standing in front of a pot of simmering risotto (i.e. here, here and here) – These arancini were already going to be a bit of work to assemble, so I took a cue from this recipe by Nagi at Recipe Tin Eats and decided to bake the risotto in the oven instead of babysitting it on the stove. I kept it simple, flavoring it with just a bit of garlic, onion, and white wine – so that its flavors would compete with that pimento cheese that we’re showcasing here.
Once the risotto is cooked, and it’s combined with our pimento cheese – It’s got to cool for a good while. Give it at least a few hours, but preferably overnight. That chilling time will get the risotto good and starchy, and sticky, making it much more easy to form our balls. Once cool, we form balls about an inch in diameter (although you could make these as large or small as you would like), coat them in panko, and fry them up until they’re perfectly crispy and golden outside, and melty inside.
The result is a perfectly addicting appetizer that’ll find itself as much at home at a tailgating party as it would for a fancy occasion like New Year’s Eve… Or even Valentine’s Day, which just happens to be right around the corner.
Serve your love up some melty, cheesy, creamy Pimento Cheese Arancini and you are pretty much guaranteed to win their heart. Take it even one step further by pairing them with some amazing wine! Robert Mondavi’s collection of costal California wines are my go-to when I’m looking for a great everyday but high-quality bottle. I noticed that they recently changed up their packaging – It’s a bit more bold and expressive – Much like their wines.
I grabbed both a bottle of their Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet and Pinot Noir for pairing with these arancini – The Cabernet for Rick, because he prefers big, bold wines, and the Pinot Noir for me, as I tend to lean towards the lighter varietals. We were both happy with our personalized choices, but I have to admit that I kept stealing some sips of his Cabernet – It just paired so nicely with the creamy texture and the sharp cheese in these risotto balls.
Do you have any special plans for Valentine’s Day next week? Whether you’re celebrating with the one you love, or flying solo, these Pimento Cheese Arancini balls should definitely be on your menu!
Pimento Cheese Arancini
- 2 Tbsp . butter
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 onion minced
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice
- ½ cup dry vermouth or white wine
- 3 ½ cups bone broth , chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 cup milk
Pimento Cheese Mixture
- 1 egg
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 oz . cream cheese
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ tsp . garlic powder
- ¼ tsp . cayenne
- ¼ tsp . onion powder
- 1 jalapeno seeded and minced
- 1 oz jar pimento peppers 4 .
- ½ cup flour
- 3 eggs beaten
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ tsp . salt
- Black pepper
- Vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in a dutch oven or heavy oven-safe pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft.
Add rice and cook until grains become translucent. Add vermouth and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook until liquid has evaporated.
Add chicken broth and milk, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Combine Pimento Cheese Mixture ingredients in a small bowl. Once the rice mixture has cooled, stir in the Pimento Cheese Mixture. Cover and let cool further in refrigerator for at least a few hours, or preferably overnight.
Mix flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl, eggs in another, and panko in a third shallow bowl.
Scoop out large spoonfuls of the rice mixture (about 3 Tbsp.) and roll them into balls.
Coat the balls in flour, then the egg mixture, and then the panko.
Add vegetable oil to a medium skillet to a depth of 1-inch and heat to medium-high heat.
Toss in a bit of panko, if it starts sizzling immediately, the oil is hot enough.
Transfer a few balls into the hot oil, using a slotted poon. Turn frequently so they cook evenly, and remove once they are a deep golden brown. Allow to drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls.
Method adapted from Nagi of Recipe Tin Eats
Wine Pairing for Pimento Cheese Arancini:
- Cabernet has a bold, hearty flavor that pairs nicely with the creamy, sharp cheese in these arancini.
Looking for more appetizer recipes? Try these:
- Fennel & Salami Bites
- Filet Mignon Bites with Creamy Horseradish Sauce
- Short Rib Crostini with Cambozola Cheese and Cherry Jam