This morning, when I woke up to the blustery, rainy and grey weather, I decided to stay in bed a little longer. Then I realised that the clocks got turned ahead last night, to British Summer Time, so in fact it was an hour later than I thought. But the kids were still asleep, the cat was purring, and the Author was gently snoring beside me: so I was staying in bed. Then I let my mind wander, and I remembered these delicious little creamy balls of rice that had been soaking in honey-orange syrup all night. That got me up straightaway.
I admit it. I am hooked.
As I explained to The Author, they are really just deep-fried rice pudding, so what is it that has captivated me so? Even the Poppet – she of the cream and chocolate habit – agrees. The same thing happened to us both: we ate one and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the most spectacular thing ever. Less than a minute later, however, we both had to have more.
Partly, the honey syrup tastes like the best orange lollipop you ever had, a bit like an orange Barnier lollipop, from France. But even better is the stickiness, and the way the sauce oozes into the lightly flavoured and creamy-textured rice. Despite being deep-fried, there is no hard crust; it’s all a bit reminiscent of gulab jamun, but with a bit more “tooth”.
And because there is a lot of citrus in there, it tastes decidedly healthy.
Plus, even though they are totally seasonal (a bonus), they taste summery. And if we’re going to call this wet and windy weather British Summer, then by all means let’s get some food to match.
Sweet Orange Croquettes with Orange Honey
Adapted from Made in Sicily, by Giorgio Locatelli
Makes 25-30 croquettes
We made these at work the other day, and in a nod to special diets, we made them gluten-free; instead of wheat flour, we added rice flour. The flavour was still good, but the croquettes did not take on the same deep golden colour in the frying. And – more annoyingly – they stuck together in the pan if they touched one another before getting a good crust. So be forewarned if you are taking this gluten-free.
I think they would also lend themselves very well to being dairy-free/vegan. If you find an alternative milk you like (I think for the sake of continuity I would use rice milk, but really, whatever you want) you could use that when you cook the rice.
- 200g (1 cup) arborio or carnaroli rice
- 1 litre (4 cups) milk (rice milk for vegan option)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- grated zest of 1 orange
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 60g (1/3 cup) sugar
- 150g (1.25 cups) flour (GF flour for GF option)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- oil for deep-frying
for the sauce:
- 200g (2/3 cup) honey (see end* for vegan option)
- grated zest and the juice of 2 oranges
- grated zest and the juice of 1 lemon
Put the rice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest in a pan. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed (15-20 minutes). Turn off heat, stir in the sugar, put in the fridge until totally cold. (For cooling down quickly, it helps to get this out of the pan and into a shallow bowl, then put on the coldest shelf in your fridge.)
When the rice is cold, sift the flour and baking powder over it and stir until everything is well combined. Locatelli says to “fold in” the flour, but I think that’s a bit optimistic. The rice is quite sticky and lumpy at this point, so it may help to mix with your hands. After this, Locatelli says to put the mixture into the fridge for an hour; I’m assuming this is to let the gluten of the flour develop. I did it. No complaints here.
Next, form the rice into small spheres about 3 cm in diameter. This is tricky, as the mixture remains extremely sticky. I tried oiling my hands, and that worked for the first 4 balls I made, but then my hands became a glutinous, rice-y mess. In the end, I found it was just easier to work with the stickiness. One benefit of going oil-free is that the balls end up with a slightly spiky exterior, which – when fried – translates to a crispy, knobbly, and very more-ish look.
Now, heat up your oil. If you don’t have a deep fryer, use whatever pot you have. (I have a little heavy-bottomed pot that I got from the charity shop: it’s the perfect size, narrow but deep, which means it uses less oil to get things submerged and also it holds its heat well.) You need to have the heat on medium high, and you will know it’s ready if, when you put a small piece of your rice in, it starts to sizzle immediately and then turns golden within a minute. Keep checking until the oil is definitely the right temperature. If it’s too cool, the croquettes will be oily and soggy; too hot, and they will burn.
While the oil is heating, make the sauce by gently heating the honey and citrus juices in a pan until the honey is loosened. Turn off the heat, add the zest, and remove the liquid to a platter that will hold the croquettes once they are cooked.
When the oil is ready, add the rice balls to the pan very carefully. You have to watch out for the oil – it is extremely hot and will burn you easily! I found that now is the time to oil my fingers: that way, the rice balls don’t stick and then suddenly plop into the hot oil. Instead, I am able to slip them in gently, with minimal disturbance to the surface of the oil. I was able to fry 6 at a time – depending on the size of your pan, you may be able to do more or less. A word of caution: err on the side of fewer in the pot or you may bring the temperature of the oil down, which will result in a greasy croquette, and who wants that?
When each batch is cooked, drain briefly on a wire rack, then add to the syrup and move the croquettes around until they are completely coated. Continue until all the rice balls are cooked.
Locatelli says to dust with icing sugar before serving, but to be honest, I don’t think they need it. If you fancy it, however, go ahead. (As if these needed any improvement!)
* Instead of honey, you could use 150g golden sugar and 50g light brown sugar. Melt them together with the citrus juices, and simmer for a few minutes. remove from heat and stir in the zest. Continue the recipe as above.