We recently shared nostalgic posters of the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival, and asked for your memories. In response, reader Sherrie Allan shared her copy of the Ninth Avenue Festival Cookbook from 1974. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to take some of those Hell’s Kitchen recipes and see if they could be recreated! Step up to the plate, Mackenzie Murray, who toiled in the kitchen in the hope of cooking up some history.
Back in 1974, when this recipe was shared in the Ninth Avenue Festival Cookbook, Manganaro’s at 488 had been in the neighborhood “for decades”. It actually was a fixture on 9th Avenue from 1893 until last year when we lost the name Manganaro and its famous Hero-Boy. They served millions of New Yorkers with their imported Italian foods too. With this recipe they assured you that you’d be “coming back for more specialties from this grosseria-restaurant”. Let’s give it a try…
Arancini — delicious Italian balls of rice stuffed with cheese and deep fried until golden brown. What could be better? CAUTION: This will be sticky work, and your hands will not come out clean!
This recipe will produce a pretty big yield of arancini. One pound of rice might not seem like a lot, but once it’s cooked, be prepared for a lengthy process of balling and frying the results. The instructions are pretty straightforward, but there were definitely some gaps.
The recipe is as follows:
My first question about this recipe relates to the rice. Yes, it has to be cooked, but what kind of rice should I be cooking? I opened my pantry to find four different kinds: Jasmine, arborio, brown, and sticky (yes, I eat a lot of rice). The one that made the most sense to use is arborio, used in risotto. It’s short grain, and when cooked absorbs a lot of water, resulting in a creamy dish. After I cooked my rice, I realized that the recipe does not say what temperature the rice should be at when combining the cheeses and butter. I decided that the best method would be to cool it to room temperature to avoid the cheese from melting.
After it cooled, it was unclear how the butter should be mixed in, so I melted it and then cooled it for a few minutes. I combined it with the other cheeses, salt and pepper and wrapped it tightly before chilling it in the fridge overnight.
More about the NINTH AVenue International Food Festival
The next day, it was time to roll out my arancini balls. But wait, now the recipe calls for more mozzarella to dice and stuff in the middle?! That probably would have been good to catch before. Let this be a lesson to always read the recipe in its entirety before starting the cooking process! I had used all my mozzarella so I went to the store and bought more. To make the recipe clearer, either the mozzarella quantity needs to be split in half, or more than a 1/2lb of mozzarella needs to be used. I personally am all for the extra cheese, because who wouldn’t want a fried rice ball stuffed with as much oozing cheese as possible? I diced up big chunks of mozzarella, wet my hands as recommended, and began rolling my rice into meatball-sized balls.
For deep frying, the recipe contains no information on how to deep fry. I filled a small pot with canola oil, heated the oil, and when it was time to fry, brought the flame down to a simmer. Ideally, you want your oil around 350 degrees, and you can test the temperature by using a thermometer, or by simply dropping the breadcrumbs in to see how they fry. Be careful though, if the oil is too hot and you proceed to cook the rice ball, it will burn and potentially ruin your oil (yes, this did happen to me).
After rolling the rice into the balls, I dipped them into egg wash and coated with the breadcrumbs. The recipe does not specify what kind of breadcrumbs, so I used plain (Italian seasoned ones were a close second option). Make sure to fry immediately after you coat with the breadcrumbs. As I kept the coating process going, I ran out of egg wash. Three eggs is definitely preferred over two to make sure the arancini is properly coated.
When dropping into the fryer, be careful to avoid splatter (that oil is HOT!). Fry only 2-4 at a time for a few minutes until the arancini are a perfect golden brown. You don’t want to crowd the pot with too many because it will lower the temperature of the oil. Take out and place on a paper towel lined rack. Immediately sprinkle them with salt (I found mine to be under-seasoned and needed more flavor). The best way to eat is to top with freshly grated parmesan, dip in some marinara sauce, or just enjoy plain!
The final verdict: This was a delicious recipe that needed some minor tweaks. A few of the recipe amounts need to be clarified, and the process of deep frying needs to be further explained. Overall, I will be making arancini in the future, except this time with more seasoning and probably even more stuffing!
More about Manganaro’s
Manganaro’s, a feature of 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen since 1893, has closed. For the first time in over 100 years, the block between W37th and W38th Street will not display the Manganaro family name. Manganaro’s…
Mackenzie Murray graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in July of 2021. Following her time at culinary school, she worked as a pasta line cook at the Michelin-starred Rezdôra. She now works as the Culinary Assistant and Digital Media Coordinator for Gail Simmons.