Arancini also known as Italian Rice balls, are stuffed with a meaty sauce and mozzarella cheese and then covered in a crunchy breadcrumb coating. At one time you had to go to Italy to get this Sicilian specialty, but thankfully, today they are available all over the world.
Italian Rice Balls are my son’s favorite appetizer or snack food. He doesn’t miss a chance to have them if they are on a restaurant menu and in his opinion this arancini recipe is one of the best he has ever had!
Arancini are a traditional Italian holiday food made on special occasions, similar to dishes like Pizza Rustica and Sfingi. But in Sicily, they are also a very popular street food that can be enjoyed all year long.
What does “Arancini” mean?
Italian rice balls get their name from the Italian word for little oranges, “Arancini”. Their origin dates to 1646, when a grain ship arrived in Sicily during a time of great famine. The ship arrived on St. Lucy’s Day, so for many years, Sicilian rice balls were a traditional food that was served to celebrate the saint’s feast day.
Interestingly, there is a great debate between the Eastern and Western parts of Sicily as to the proper shape of this delicious street food. In Palermo arancini are round and in the eastern cities of Catania and Messina, they have a conical shape, which is inspired by Mt. Etna. Since I am from Palermo, I favor the round shape!
This Sicilian street food also has a Roman cousin. In the Lazio region, they make a rice ball that is known as Suppli. It is oblong in shape and has cheese in the center.
Are Italian Rice Balls Hard to Make?
Although there are a few steps involved in making Italian rice balls, they really are not that difficult if you plan ahead. I find that it is best to make the rice and the meat sauce the day before you are going to assemble and fry them. This makes the process so much easier.
If you plan to make a lot of rice balls, I recommend getting a few people involved and making it a party. It will go fast, and you will have fun making them.
Ingredients and Notes
- Bolognese Sauce – This is the typical meat sauce that is used to fill the arancini. Here is the recipe for my Bolognese sauce. This recipe makes more than you will need for the Arancini, so I freeze the rest or plan to use it for dinner within a few days of making it. If you don’t want a meat filling you can substitute Marinara sauce.
- Peas – I use frozen peas because I always have them on hand and I don’t need to worry about whether they are in season. You can use fresh peas if you have them available.
- Mozzarella – Use whole milk mozzarella and cut it into ½” cubes. I do not use fresh mozzarella for this recipe.
- Arborio Rice – Arborio or risotto rice, works well because it gets sticky and will hold together nicely. It is a short grain rice that is traditionally used in Sicily for arancini.
- White wine – You can use any white wine you like. I use Chardonnay because I like the flavor of it but feel free to use what you have on hand.
- Shallot – Dice the shallot as small as you can. You can use garlic if you don’t have shallots or just leave it out entirely.
- Chicken Broth – or Stock. It is not necessary to use homemade. Store bought broth works just fine.
- Parmesan cheese – Grated not shaved.
- Eggs – The eggs will need to be beaten.
- Flour – All purpose flour for coating the rice balls.
- Bread Crumbs: I like Italian seasoned breadcrumbs but you can use plan if that is what you have.
- Vegetable oil – Or Olive Oil. You will need enough to fry the arancini in.
Step By Step Instructions for Making Italian Rice Balls
- Make the risotto.
- Sauté the shallot in hot olive oil in a saucepan set over medium heat.
- Add the rice and cook stirring constantly until the rice is completely coated in oil and is translucent. Carefully stir in the wine and cook until the wine is completely absorbed.
- Add one cup of chicken broth and stir constantly until the broth is absorbed.
- Repeat this by adding the broth a ladleful at a time and stirring constantly until all of the broth has been absorbed.
- Pour the rice into a rimmed baking sheet and spread it out evenly. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Prepare the Bolognese.
- Heat the Bolognese sauce and add the peas. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peas are heated through.
- Assemble the rice balls.
- Mix the risotto with a beaten egg and the parmesan cheese.
- Prepare the dredging staging with 3 shallow bowls of beaten egg, flour and breadcrumbs.
- Wet your hands and place a heaping tablespoon (ice cream scoop) of rice mixture in the palm of your hand, flatten the rice out and add one teaspoon of Bolognese and a piece of mozzarella in the center.
- Cover the rice with another tablespoon of rice mixture.
- Form it into a ball making sure to seal the filling completely and set aside. Repeat this process with the remaining ingredients.
- Roll each ball in the flour, coating it completely, then the egg and the bread crumbs.
- Fry the rice balls.
- Heat the oil to 350F degrees. You can use a deep fryer or shallow fry them in a deep skillet.
- If you are shallow frying them, you should have enough oil in the pan that it goes half way up the rice ball.
- When they are golden brown on all sides, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and place them on a sheet pan lined with paper towels.
Your rice should be cooked to al dente so that it is not mushy.
Place the rice in the refrigerator and allow it to cool for several hours. The cold risotto will stick together and mold better when you are forming the rice balls.
Wet your hands before forming each rice ball. The water will keep the rice from sticking to your hands and you will be able to form and seal the ball more securely.
The oil you fry the balls in needs to be hot enough to fry the balls to a golden brown. Just be careful that the temperature of the oil is not too hot. If it is too hot the rice balls will brown too quickly and the cheese in the center will not get hot enough to melt.
What Do You Serve with Italian Rice Balls?
These crispy rice balls are a great appetizer or party finger food. In Italy they are eaten on their own. But in Italian restaurants they are often served with a side of tomato sauce for dipping them in. You can even serve them as a main course with a side salad.
Different Fillings for Sicilian Arancini
The most common filling is probably meat sauce with peas and mozzarella. But there are many variations of Arancini di riso, or risotto balls, in Italy. In Catania you may find them made “alla Norma” with an eggplant filling, in other parts of Italy you might find them made with prosciutto and cheese or with a bechamel sauce.
It is best to eat arancini warm so that the crust is crunchy and the cheese in the filling is gooey and melted. They are just as good re-warmed as they are when they are freshly cooked.
To store leftovers, place them in an airtight container or a plastic bag and refrigerate them for up to 4 days. They can be reheated in a 350F degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Yes. Arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer for about an hour. This will keep them from sticking together. Then they can be transferred to a plastic freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 months.
I love to get your feedback so if you tried this Italian Rice Balls “Arancini” Recipe or any other recipes on this website, please leave me a comment below. I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!
Arancini (Italian Rice Balls)
- 1 skillet large, deep for frying or
- 1 Deep fryer
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tbsp Shallot diced
- 2 cups Arborio rice or other short grain rice
- ⅓ cup White wine
- 3½-4 cups Chicken Broth
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 3 Eggs large, divided
- 1 cup Bolognese sauce
- ¼ cup Peas frozen or fresh
- ½ cup Flour all purpose
- 1 cup Bread crumbs seasoned
- 2-4 oz Mozzarella cheese cut into ½" -¾" cubes
- Vegetable or Olive oil for frying
- Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan. When the oil is hot add the shallot and sauté until tender, about a minute. Stir in the rice and cook stirring constantly until all of the rice is coated in oil and is translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in the white wine and cook until the wine is completely absorbed. Stir the rice constantly.
- Add 1 cup of chicken broth and stir until the broth has been absorbed. Continue to add chicken broth 1 ladleful at a time making sure the liquid is absorbed between additions and continue to stir constantly so the rice does not stick. Cook until the rice is al dente. Add salt to taste if necessary. Remove from the stove and let it cool down for about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the rice to a rimmed baking sheet and spread it out evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
Make the Bolognese and set aside until ready to assemble the rice balls
Assemble and Fry
- Transfer the cold rice to a large bowl and combine with 1 beaten egg and the parmesan cheese, mixing well.
- Add the peas to about a cup to 1½ cups of Bolognese in a small saucepan and cook until the peas are heated through.
- Wet your hands. Using an Ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop the rice into the palm of your hand. Flatten out the rice. Add a heaping teaspoon of Bolognese and a cube of mozzarella in the center of the rice. Cover with another scoop of rice and mold it to form a ball. Make sure to secure the filling inside the rice. Set aside and repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.
- Set up a dredging station with 3 shallow bowls. Place the flour in one bowl, the 2 beaten eggs in another and the bread crumbs in the third bowl.
- Roll one of the rice balls in the flour, coating completely and dusting off any excess flour. Then roll it in the egg, and lastly in the breadcrumbs and set aside. Repeat this with the remaining rice balls.
- Heat enough the vegetable or olive oil in your skillet or fryer. If using a skillet you need enough oil to come half way up the side of the rice balls. When the oil reaches 350℉, it is ready.
- Add 5 or 6 rice balls to the oil and fry until the breading is golden brown, then flip them over. When the rice balls are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a baking sheet that is lined with paper towels.
- Serve the rice balls warm. You can serve a side of tomato sauce with them if you like.
- Follow this link for my Bolognese Sauce recipe. You can make it the day before or while the rice cools in the refrigerator. The recipe makes a lot more sauce then you will need for this recipe, but you can freeze or refrigerate it and use it for dinner within several days of making it.
- Your rice should be cooked to al dente so that it is not mushy.
- Place the rice in the refrigerator and allow it to cool for several hours. The cold risotto will stick together and mold better when you are forming the rice balls.
- Wet your hands before forming each rice ball. The water will keep the rice from sticking to your hands and you will be able to form and seal the ball more securely.
- The oil you fry the balls in needs to be hot enough to fry the balls to a golden brown. Just be careful that the temperature of the oil is not too hot. If it is too hot the rice balls will brown too quickly and the cheese in the center will not get hot enough to melt.