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How to Make Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls)

How to Make Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls)

Learn how to make Arancini, the irresistible Sicilian finger food: fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce. Helpful step-by-step pictures included!

How to Make Arancini (Fried Risotto Balls!) // FoodNouveau.com

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.


I first tasted arancini, a classic Italian snack, during one of my first trips to Italy, but I fell truly in love with them in Sicily, where the dish comes from. In Sicily, arancini—gooey, cheesy, crispy fried rice balls—seemed to be sold everywhere, ready to delight us at breakfast time, lunchtime, and late afternoon. Sicilian arancini are the perfect finger food: creamy rice, a variety of scrumptious garnishes, melting cheese—all of that, in a neat little fried package? I can’t think of anything else to serve with cocktails at your next dinner party.

Cone-shaped arancini in Catania, Sicily

What are arancini made of?

Arancini are made with leftover, cooled risotto. They’re often stuffed with ragu, a simple meat sauce, and a chunk of mozzarella cheese. The risotto balls are then coated in crunchy breadcrumbs and deep-fried until crisp, which reheats the risotto and melts the mozzarella cheese. The real delight of arancini resides in its textures: the contrast between the crunchy shell and the gooey center is just irresistible.

Although Sicilian rice balls are usually stuffed with meat sauce (I like to stuff mine with homemade Bolognese sauce—so delicious!), you can keep things simple and simply stuff them with mozzarella or flavor the risotto you’ll be using. The best arancini I tasted in Sicily were made with pistachio risotto: it was such a luxurious bite! I also like to flavor risotto with lots of lemon zest. The sharpness of citrus is a nice contrast to the otherwise rich flavors and textures.

What does arancini mean in English?

The word arancini is a diminutive of arancia, which means “orange.” “Arancini” means “little orange,” and that’s a reference to the shape and color of the treat.

What cheeses are used to make arancini?

The gooey center of Sicilian rice balls is mozzarella cheese. You can cut mozzarella into cubes to stuff them into arancini, or you can use mini bocconcini, which conveniently come in tiny balls that are easy to slip into cold risotto.

The risotto used to make arancini is flavored with parmesan. For the best flavor,  I like to use aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.

How to shape arancini

Cold risotto is easy to work with. Although shaping and preparing arancini for frying involves a few steps, if you prepare your workspace properly, you’ll be able to breeze through the process.

Quick tips to shape Sicilian rice balls without making a mess:

  • Wear gloves or use plastic wrap: Working with the risotto rice can get messy. To avoid getting your hands too sticky, you can wear disposable gloves. Alternatively, set the risotto over a square of plastic wrap and use the plastic wrap to help shape the arancini balls. You can reuse the same square of plastic wrap to shape all the arancini and avoid waste.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to quickly portion the risotto: Using an ice cream scoop allows you to easily create equal portions of risotto, which means the arancini balls will all be the same size. This makes for a pretty presentation, but just as importantly, it allows all the risotto balls to fry in the same amount of time.

Arancine con Ragù, before dredging and frying

Refer to the full recipe, below, for the entire process, but here’s a glimpse at the process of shaping arancini balls:

  1. Take a handful (about 1/4 cup/60 ml) of cold risotto and shape it into a small ball in the palm of your hand.
  2. Make an indentation in the center of the ball and drop in 1 tbsp/15 ml of meat sauce, if using.
  3. Drop a piece of mozzarella cheese or a mini bocconcini over the sauce.
  4. Using both hands, gently work the rice so that it completely encloses the meat sauce and cheese, slowly closing your hands over the rice ball to make it perfectly round.

Making Arancine con Ragù: How to form the rice balls

Can you make smaller arancini?

Traditional Sicilian arancini are quite large, about 2.5 in (5 cm) in diameter—hence the comparison with small oranges!

Inside an arancini, rich ragù sauce and melting cheese await (Catania, Sicily)

It would absolutely not be a sin to make bite-sized arancini. This works especially well when you use no stuffing at all—this would produce a dish that would closely resemble the Roman supplì, a smaller-sized fried rice ball. Arancini and supplì are close cousins, anyway!

Bite-sized arancini make a lot of sense, especially if you plan to serve them as part of an array of cocktail finger foods. To make bite-sized arancini, I would make the risotto extra-cheesy (since you won’t stuff it with extra cheese) and create balls with about 1.5 tbsp of risotto. Make sure to adjust the frying time because bite-sized arancini will cook much faster.

Can you make arancini if you don’t have a fryer?

You absolutely can. I don’t have a fryer and make arancini more often than I care to admit!

Making arancini without a fryer requires you to be extra careful: Use the largest pot you have, make sure the oil doesn’t come up higher than the lower third of the pot (you only need 3 in/8 cm of oil to properly fry arancini), and always, ALWAYS remain glued to the stove while you’ve got hot oil on it. I strongly recommend clipping a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot to make sure the oil remains at the proper temperature. You can buy a reliable deep-fry thermometer for less than $10—this is a small investment that will help you be safer in the kitchen.

Making Arancine con Ragù: To fry the rice balls: When the oil comes to temperature, carefully slip 4 or 5 rice balls into the oil (don’t overcrowd the pot). Fry, turning as necessary with tongs or a slotted spoon, until golden brown and crisp on all sides, about 4 minutes.

Can you bake arancini instead of frying them?

You can bake arancini instead of frying them, but if you plan on doing so, I would definitely recommend making bite-sized arancini instead of the traditional, larger size. Smaller arancini will bake more easily and become crisper than larger ones. Baked arancini won’t get as crispy as fried ones, but they will still be delicious.

To bake arancini, preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Grease the foil with cooking spray. Roll arancini using 1.5 tbsp of risotto, then dredge them in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs as indicated in the recipe. Set on the prepared baking sheet, then generously spray the arancini balls with cooking spray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the arancini are golden brown. (You can broil the arancini for a minute or two at the end of the cooking time to give them more color, if desired.)

Can you make arancini ahead of time?

Yes, you can. Prepare and fry the Sicilian rice balls as indicated in the recipe. Transfer the fried arancini to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

How to Make Arancini (Fried Risotto Balls!) // FoodNouveau.com

How to reheat arancini

It’s easy to reheat Sicilian rice balls that have been refrigerated. Simply set the arancini on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and reheat in a 350°F (175°C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Can you freeze arancini balls? 

I would not recommend freezing fried or baked arancini. The freezing and thawing process could make the filling and rice too watery and cause the arancini to lose their shape and/or never return to their original crispy glory.

You can, however, prepare the rice balls, stopping before the dredging process. Set the “naked” rice balls on a baking sheet and freeze until hard. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 1 month.

Rolled arancini, before dredging in breadcrumbs and frying // FoodNouveau.com

Thaw the arancini in the fridge overnight. Dredge the arancini in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and fry just before serving. 

How to Make Arancini (Fried Risotto Balls!) // FoodNouveau.com

 

 

How to Make Arancini (Fried Risotto Balls!) // FoodNouveau.com

Arancini con Ragù (Sicilian Rice Balls Stuffed with Meat Sauce)

Learn how to make Arancini, the irresistible Sicilian snack: fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce. Helpful step-by-step pictures included!
Prep Time:45 mins
Cook Time:30 mins
Cooling Time:12 hrs
Servings 12 arancini
Author Marie Asselin, FoodNouveau.com

Ingredients

For the risotto

  • 2 ¼ cups chicken stock, or vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 oz risotto rice  (ArborioCarnaroli, or Vialone Nano)
  • 2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large egg

For the filling

  • ½ cup leftover Bolognese sauce, or any variety of thick meat sauce
  • ¼ cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 12 mozzarella cubes or bocconcini balls

To fry the arancini

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups vegetable oil

To serve

  • Tomato sauce, or
  • Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise)

Instructions

Make the risotto:

  • In a large saucepan, bring the broth and olive oil to a boil. Stir in the rice, return to the boil, then lower the heat to keep to a gentle simmer. Cook the rice, uncovered, until al dente (tender but firm) about 12 minutes. When the rice is cooked, if there’s a bit of liquid remaining, drain it in a colander (any remaining liquid should be thick, heavy cream-like). Gently stir the rice in the colander to make sure any excess liquid drains out. Spread the rice on a baking tray and cool to room temperature. You can also refrigerate the rice for up to 24 hours at this point.
  • When the rice is cool, scrape it into a large mixing bowl and mix in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the egg.

Prepare the sauce:

  • Warm up the Bolognese sauce, or meat sauce of your choosing, then stir in the peas. Set aside.

Get your workstation ready:

  • Set the bowl of risotto, the meat sauce, and the cheese cubes in front of you, assembly-line style. Place a baking sheet nearby to put the rice balls on as you’re making them. Take out a large ice cream scoop if you have one (it handily measures out the exact amount of rice you need for each arancini: ¼ cup / 60 ml.) Put disposable gloves on if you wish because it’s a bit of a messy business.

How to shape the arancini: 

  • Take 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the rice mixture and shape it into a small ball in the palm of your hand. Make a well in the center of the ball and drop in about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of the meat sauce. Drop a bocconcini ball or mozzarella cube in the center of the sauce. Using both hands, gently work the rice so that it completely encloses the meat sauce and cheese, slowly closing your hands over the rice ball to make it perfectly round.
  • Continue forming arancini with the remaining risotto and meat sauce. Once all the arancini are formed, freeze for 20 minutes. This will help them remain perfectly round as they fry.

Dredge the arancini:

  • Place three shallow bowls on your working surface. Put the flour in the first bowl, whisk the 2 eggs in the second one, and put the breadcrumbs in the last bowl. Set another clean baking sheet nearby to put the rice balls on as you’re dredging them.
  • Dredge one rice ball in flour to coat all sides. Tap off excess flour. Roll the rice ball in the beaten egg to coat, allowing any excess egg to drip back into the bowl. Finally, roll the rice ball in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly to coat evenly with the crumbs. Transfer to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining rice balls.

Fry the arancini:

  • If you’d like to serve the rice balls right after making them, heat the oven to 200°F (95°C) or to the lowest setting to keep the arancini warm as you fry them. Line a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels.
  • Pour the vegetable oil into a large stockpot so the oil comes up about 2 inches (5 cm) up the sides of the pot. The size of the pot you're using may require the use of more oil; add more oil if needed to make up for the difference.
  • If working WITH a thermometer: Insert a deep-fry thermometer in the oil and heat the oil over medium heat to 375°F (190°C). (If you are working without a thermometer, test the temperature as directed below.) Once the oil reaches the right temperature, keep an eye on it and adjust the heat under the saucepan to maintain a steady temperature throughout the frying process.
  • If working WITHOUT a thermometer: Test the temperature of the oil by dipping a small chunk of rice in the oil. It should give off a lively but steady sizzle. If nothing happens, the oil isn’t hot enough; if the oil around the bread-crumb coating boils and sputters, the oil is too hot. Adjust the heat accordingly.
  • When the oil comes to temperature: Carefully slip 2 or 3 arancini into the oil (don’t overcrowd the pot). Fry, turning as necessary with tongs or a slotted spoon, until golden brown and crisp on all sides, about 4 minutes. Remove to the paper towel-lined baking sheet, keeping them hot in the oven if you like. Fry the remaining rice balls.
  • MAKE-AHEAD TIPS: To make the arancini ahead of time, simply let them cool to room temperature on the paper towel-lined baking sheet after frying. Once cool, store in an airtight container in the fridge. To reheat, preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Set the rice balls on a greased baking sheet and warm for 10 minutes in the oven, turning them halfway through.
  • SERVING: Arancini can be served hot or at room temperature. Sicilian rice balls are wonderful served as a snack or an appetizer with tomato sauce or garlic mayo on the side, or a main course along with a hearty salad.

Did you make this?

Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.

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Prep Time: 45 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Cooling Time: 12 hrs

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  1. Can you make them in advance and leave them in the freezer to cook in the future? If so, how long can you freeze them for?

  2. i need to make them like his mom did…she is not with us, so I cannot ask…this look like the ones he always talks about! I have to try these…wish me luck! How about spaghetti pie? Potato pie? The Italian potato croquette? Help? Veal and peppers? I need help! lol Not to mention willpower for my diet!!!

  3. Bought a couple of these at a small market here in Ireland The other day and was blown away! Heated them up and ate with some conchiglioni I was making that night, and it was incredible. Was determined to make my own, and this site looks like a brilliant way to do just that. Thanks a million!