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Before Nick Pitillo opened Osteria 166 (166 Franklin St.), he was trying to figure out how to make arancini appeal to more customers.

Arancini are essentially a ball of fried risotto, served with sauce. Pitillo thought that sticks of fried stuff was the least intimidating form, and passed the task of creating stuffed pepper risotto sticks to Chef Jeff Cooke.

“It’s ironic, because it’s about five steps harder than arancini,” said Cooke. “We made about 4,000 of them for the Italian Festival last year and it was not fun.”

Cooke makes risotto with arborio rice and Parmesan cheese. Then he adds cooked crumbled house-made pork sausage, diced banana peppers, fresh garlic and basil and more cheese, like ricotta and mozzarella.

Then the whole batch is troweled into sheet pans and frozen. It’s chopped into 132 sticks per pan, more or less. That’s one thing the Italian Festival taught Osteria’s cooks, by trial and error, Cooke said.

Since the sticks go into the fryer frozen, “they have to be the right dimension to have the crispy outside and soft inside when it’s done cooking,” said Cooke. “If they’re too big, they’ll still be cold inside, and if they’re too small, they’ll just be all crunch.”

Then it gets a basic Milanese-style coating – seasoned flour, egg wash, seasoned panko breadcrumbs – and it’s off to the fryer.

The rice batons come four to an order, for $8, and are served with a sauce that combines creamy banana pepper soup and marinara.

“It seems to be kind of a silly thing, but people really like them,” Cooke said. “It gets people to try something that otherwise they wouldn’t – they might not try something called arancini but a stuffed pepper risotto stick seems more accessible.”

For information, visit www.osteriabuffalo.com or call 858-3118.

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