If you’ve never been to Nelson, British Columbia then you have been missing some of the most awe-inspiring natural landscapes that the province offers, as well as some of the best restaurants this side of Montreal. In addition to its brush with fame in the 80’s as the filming location for Steve Martin’s Roxanne, the town also has an eclectic music and arts scene, decent skiing and an economy that is apparently fuelled principally by the sale of psychotropics. The highlight of my stay was stumbling upon a couple of hidden gem restaurants that intrigued me with the novelty of their meals. Two side dishes, in particular, sent me reeling at the table: Masala Poutine with fromage frais and flash-fried risotto balls in panko.
I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the masala poutine. Hailing from La Belle Province I have a predisposition for poutine and anything deep fried, just as I have an ingrained dislike, equally strong, for Quebec’s other well known export, Celine Dion. I picked up a mandoline to emulate the style of fries, but to no avail. I’ve also ruined two batches of masala sauce concoctions, none of which are worthy of the original. When I finally do get this close enough to post, remind me to tell you the story about the time we introduced poutine to Laos.
The risotto balls, on the other hand, have agreed with my efforts of experimentation. I’ve strayed from the original ones I sampled, but did still choose to enrobe them in panko, with a quick dip in the deep fryer for crunchiness. I’ve also added a little bit of white wine, for added flavour and acidity, and stuffed the balls with mozza and a fire roasted red pepper fresh from my BBQ. I made each ball a little larger than a golf ball; and although their size is diminutive, they are tremendously filling, beware.
(Makes 10-12 risotto balls)
3 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp butter 2 cups risotto (arborio rice), uncooked 1/2 cup white wine 7-8 cups chicken broth 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 1 large red pepper (or 1/2 cup of store bought roasted peppers) Roughly 1/2 cup mozzarella, cut into small pieces (1/2 inch x 1/2 inch) 1 egg, egg white only, for coating 3/4 cup panko crumbs, for coating 2-4 cups canola oil, for deep frying
1. In a large frying pan or skillet on medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the arborio rice and stir, coating in the oil for 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir for a minute, then one ladleful at a time add the chicken broth. Stir constantly to make sure the rice doesn’t burn or stick to the pan. Once it absorbs all the liquid, add another ladle of broth and repeat. I never actually follow a recipe when it comes to risotto. I do everything by taste and texture of the rice as it cooks. When it’s no longer al dente and gets chewy, you know it’s done – so you stop adding broth. Normally the ratio is about 1 cup rice to 4 cups broth or water.
2. When the rice is done, after roughly 20 minutes of stirring and adding more broth, add the shredded mozzarella and grated parm cheese, then stir until well mixed. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
3. As the rice is cooling, rinse your red pepper then let it sit close to an open flame. If you have a natural gas stove top with a flame, let it sit close enough to the fire that it can get scorched. I have a boring ceramic top, so instead I removed the grill of my patio BBQ and let the pepper rest close to the flames there.
With tongs, you’ll want to turn the pepper every 5 minutes or until each side becomes completely blackened. Don’t worry about burning its skin beyond recognition; what you’re after is the soft, still-red flesh that remains underneath the burnt skin once peeled away. Keep turning until all sides are completely black – no red left.
4. Remove from the heat. With a small, sharp knife, begin to scrape away the charred flesh, which should already be starting to peel without your help. You’ll be left with a soft, blood-red skin underneath which is the good stuff.
Cut the pepper in half, then remove the stem, the seeds and the inner, white lining. Slice the pepper into thin strips and set aside.
5. Take a handful of risotto (now slightly cooled), about 1/3 cup, and flatten it out into a circle on your hand. In the middle of the circle, place a piece or two of mozzarella cheese and a strip of pepper, then close up the risotto into a ball, with the stuffing in the centre.
6. Have the panko in a bowl, ready to go, and the egg white in a second bowl for coating. Coat the risotto ball in the egg white, then roll in the panko to completely coat. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for remaining risotto balls.
7. Get your deep fryer ready, if you have one, with the oil heated up. I used a large saucepan with the oil, instead, heated to medium-hot. Once the oil is pre-heated, fry the balls for 3 minutes, turning part way, until slightly browned and crunchy on the outsides. Remove from the oil and let rest on a paper towel. Serve warm, while the mozzarella is still hot and melted in the centres. Enjoy!