It is rare that I fall in love with food at first bite. Sure I have loved meals from time to time, raved about them to my friends and family, even made pals with the chef just so I could order a particular special dish off menu whenever I wanted. All that being said, only one item has ever brought me to the point of obsession and that is the Cheesy Risotto Balls from the Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It’s crazy, I know, but these delectable delights had me at hello and never let go. The perfect balance of Parmesan cheese and creamy risotto would render me speechless. Then, to my horror, they were gone. Months went by with the same excuse that my food favorite had been a seasonal item and would possibly be back in the fall. What is seasonal about risotto, cheese, and panko breadcrumbs? I decided to do the unthinkable…make them myself.
For most, this would seem a simple task, however I am not a cook. Sure, I make simple dinners for my family and the occasional dessert, but my skills are far from spectacular. There is a certain amount of confidence needed to make risotto, let alone good risotto. Needless to say, I was nervous, but I tackled the task at hand. To my amazement and delight, my creation was pretty awesome.
What made these tasty treats so great was the combination of cheeses I used. While the ones from the store had Parmesan cheese, I wanted to step it up a notch. My cheesy choices were Roth’s Private Reserve and Marieke Gouda, both savory Wisconsin cheeses with distinct differences but married well together.
Roth’s Private Reserve, a raw milk Beaufort-style cheese, has a nutty, beefy flavor yet isn’t overly aggressive. Marieke Gouda, also a cow’s milk cheese, is creamier with sweet grass fresh flavors. Together they melt into the perfect balance of salty, sweet, earthy goodness without being overpowering on the palate.
The hardest part of the recipe is waiting for the risotto to cool since just thinking about the end product made me want to just get to frying. I also resisted the urge to season the breadcrumbs and toast them beforehand. The panko has to be in its uncooked state to fry up nice and crispy.
In the end, I don’t have to wait for any season to fall in love.
Panko crusted risotto cheese balls
1 ½ cups risotto rice
4 oz Roth’s Private Reserve cheese, grated
4 oz Marieke Gouda, grated
Three eggs, beaten
Cook risotto according to package, using chicken stock in place of water. Once cooked, stir in grated cheeses until blended and melted. Spread risotto and cheese mixture on parchment-lined cookie sheet and allow to get to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator until totally cooled, preferably overnight.
Once chilled, dip fingers in water and shape 2 rounded tablespoons chilled risotto into a (1 1/2″) balls.
Heat oil on high in deep skillet or large pot.
Put flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. For each risotto ball: roll in flour and shake off excess; dip in egg and let excess drip off; roll in bread crumbs; transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Carefully add risotto cheese balls to heated oil with a slotted spoon, five or six at a time, turning after two or three minutes, depending on how fast they brown.
Using slotted spoon, transfer cooked risotto cheese balls to paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
Serve immediately or keep warm in oven.
Yields 28-30 risotto balls