BY BARB FORD
Last week was a glorious week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado-thanks to the Nashville Ski Club. Known to most of us for great alpine skiing, Steamboat is actually a year round mecca for great food, and snow/river sports of all kinds. And the great food is no exaggeration. During the week, we discovered an on mountain "five star dive bar" called the T-Bar that served amazing gourmet food, including head on prawns over cheese grits, duck rillettes and fabulous flatbreads. When it came time to head into town for brunch one day, we landed at Creekside and savored bacon and avocado eggs benedict with bacon that rivaled our hometown John Batey's bacon. But the best evening was at Mambo Italiano, billed as "Steamboat's Italian Hot Spot."
Hidden here in a Colorado mountain town is a restaurant that combines fabulous hospitality with real field-to-table Italian dishes. Our delightful server, Betsy Lynn, helped us read through the menu so we would understand how truly special every dish at Mambo Italiano is-from the carefully chosen ingredients to the thoughtful preparations. The owner raises his own beef at La Joya Dulce Ranch just for the meat balls and Bolognese sauce. While the chef is originally from South Africa, her Italian dishes seem to come straight from Italy's hill country. She features Yampa Valley Farms pork for her homemade sausages, lasagna and osso bucco. If you aren't into meat, think about some of these items-just reading the descriptions made me drool! Mambo Tootsie Rolls are ricotta and pesto stuffed egg rolls with marinara sauce. Pasta Ravenna is farfalle pasta with artichokes, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes in a tomato cream sauce. House made roasted sweet potato ravioli is tossed with gorgonzola cream sauce, sage and toasted walnuts. But my favorite, and one that we can all imitate at home, was an appetizer. Truffle Arancini is a fried truffle and porcini scented risotto ball stuffed with fontina cheese.
Arancini is a traditional Italian snack, making use of leftover rice and cheese by frying it into little balls. But Mamo Italiano's arancini was redolent with just enough truffle oil and porcini powder to make them irresistible. While the outsides were crispy, the insides held a jewel of melting cheese that added another layer of richness to the dish. And the best news is that if you can't make it to Steamboat, you can make these divine snacks right here at home. Plain arancini without the truffle and porcini are still delicious, but to make the special kind, you will need some dried porcini mushrooms ground into a fine powder and a small jar of truffle oil. Both of these items can be found at gourmet stores and even on the shelves of retailers such as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. The best part of the whole recipe is that of course, you can use leftover risotto. So I suggest making a large batch of risotto for supper one night and saving part of it to use for appetizers a day or two after. Here is my interpretation of the Mambo Italiano recipe.
Fontina Arancini with Truffle and Porcini
Vegetable oil for frying
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups cold risotto
1 teaspoon truffle oil
1 Tablespoon porcini mushroom powder
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups dried Italian style breadcrumbs
3 ounces Fontina Cheese, cut into ½ to 1/3 inch cubes
Pour enough oil into a large deep pot to reach up the sides about three inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350oF. Stir the eggs, risotto, truffle oil, mushroom powder, Parmesan and ½ cup of the breadcrumbs together in a large bowl until the mixture is well combined. Place the rest of the breadcrumbs into a pie pan. Using your hands, shape the rice mixture into golf ball sized balls. Insert a piece of Fontina into the center of each ball, rolling the ball together to be sure the cheese won't leak out when melted. Roll the balls in the breadcrumbs to coat them well. Working in batches, fry the balls in the hot oil and cook them, turning to be sure they brown evenly, for about four minutes. Drain the cooked balls on paper towels, season them with salt and pepper and serve hot.