Apparently, the word ‘supplì’ derives from the French word ‘surprise’ … but who knows … the surprise in question being a piece of melting mozzarella hiding in the heart of a fried rice ball. The Italian cook couldn’t pronounce the French word properly and it degenerated into “supplì”.
Caveat emptor: this is a very long post. It had to be, supplì take a while to make. If you would like to ‘cut to the chase’, so as to speak … just skip the beginning and scroll straight down to “INGREDIENTS”.
I can’t think why anyone would want to make supplì if they live within walking distance of a good Rosticceria, which I do. So what prompted me that day, what? what? what obscure, unaccountable, imponderable inclination? What was I thinking? It must have been the heat. It was incredibly hot these last few weeks. Hot and muggy. That’s it … the heat must have gone to my head and made me crazy enough to want to even muse about the making of supplì.
The result came as no surprise.
So, so. Sort-of all right. Comme ci, comme ça. Or, as they say in Italian, “insomma”.
You have to have your wits about you when making supplì, no question about that. My son ate quite a lot of them, so he must have liked them, but his honest comment was: “not bad, … but it’s a little like eating a risotto with ragù”. And you know? he was right. I should have added more rice to the recipe, or use less meat sauce. But such is the art of home-cooking. Mistakes are made, a lesson is learnt and we plod on, getting it better until we get it ‘right’.
And if practice makes perfect, it is also true that a lack of perfection does not necessarily detract from the enjoyment of a dish. We ended up making a lot of supplì … and they were all gone by the next day!
Ingredients for making the rice
Dry porcini mushrooms brought to life again by being soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, a large tin of plum tomatoes, an onion and 600g of minced meat (the above was a mixture of beef and a pork sausage). The classic Roman supplì recipe calls for a little bit of chicken liver too … but my husband can’t eat liver, so I didn’t use any. You will also need:
400g of good Italian rice (either arborio or carnaroli). Considering how my supplì turned out that day, I would now recommend 500g of rice per 500g of minced meat.
Two beaten eggs and freshly grated parmesan cheese need to be added to the cooked rice at the end. And once the rice has cooled down and is ready for shaping, baby chunks of mozzarella are required to put the ‘surprise’ inside the ‘supplì’.
Last, the supplì need to be dredged in sifted flour, then plunged into an egg wash, and then coated with bread crumbs before being fried in oil.
COOKING THE RICE
The procedure is very similar to that of ragù: an onion is sliced and cooked in olive oil, the mushrooms are added first followed by the minced meat which is left to cook until browned at which point a glass of wine is thrown in and allowed to evaporate for good measure. This is followed by adding the plum tomatoes. The rice is added next and maybe some hot water to make sure it is liquid enough for the rice to cook properly … and bob’s your uncle. Stir until cooked, roughly 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
At this point, cover with a clean tea towel and let it ‘rest’. In the fridge if it is very hot, or somewhere cool if the temperature is okay. The rice and the ragù need a bit of time to enhance their intimacy, they need to blend into one. Give them one hour at the very least. The result must not be a soggy one or woe betide us! But on the other hand, a little stickiness is definitely called for.
GETTING THE RICE AND RAGU INTO SHAPE
The best way I know of shaping the rice balls — which, technically speaking, are not supposed to be ‘balls’ at all, but more oval in shape — is to find some poor obliging soul to do the work for you. There is a lot to be said for team work. And so it fell upon the lot of my daughter to execute this very important and intricate job. She too got fed up after a while and her brother was called to do his bit for the supplì cause. Ah, it’s always so nice to see brother and sister get on so well, sigh!
You will also need a bowl of cold water to dip your fingers into. The rice mixture is very sticky and you’ll want to dip your fingers frequently. I warn you: this bowl will look horrible by the end of the operation!
The mozzarella can be shredded into bite sized chunks and left to drain in a colander. If the mozzarella is too ‘watery’, it will ruin the supplì. Feel free to squeeze liquid out of the mozzarella too, which is what we did.
R oll the supplì in the sifted flour and make sure it is coated all over and that you shake off the excess. The flour acts like a sheath around the supplì. When it is time to fry it, the flour will prevent any oil from penetrating it.
Final touch: roll the supplì in the breadcrumbs. Careful. This requires strength and gentleness at the same time. (Your fingers will look a mess at this stage, which is why you’ll want to dip them in water before starting all over again on another supplì).
I used an ordinary sunflower oil to fry them. I am told that groundnut or peanut oil is one of the best oils for maintaning a high temperature when frying without it reaching a smoking point, which is so dangerous for one’s health … but I have also researched around the effect that groundnuts can have on one’s thyroid, so I avoid it. As for soy oil — perish the thought! Pure poison. Nasty stuff for one’s health and it tastes nasty too. Do some research for yourself if you don’t believe me. The only good soy is fermented soy: i.e. soy sauce and tempeh. But I digress.
FRYING THE SUPPLIì
Frying food is an art. It requires a constant temperature and frying in small batches as opposed to all-at-once. Also, do please refrain from poking about with whatever is being fried. Leave well alone! The result is so much better in terms of crispiness.
And use a slotted spoon to remove them from the frying pan and rest them on some kitchen paper. Please notice how there is very little trace of oil on the paper! Which means that the supplì got properly fried!
Supplì can be frozen. Good for parties.