Arancini di Riso, or Sicilian Rice Balls, are one of the most delicious dishes you can find in Sicily.
Arancini are small deep-fried rice balls filled with meat sauce or mozzarella and prosciutto, round or conical in shape.
Are you wondering why different shapes? Because in Sicily the filling of arancini can vary according to local traditions. They give a different shape to distiguish the different tastes.
Among the best known varieties are the white rice arancini, usually stuffed with a filling of ham and mozzarella. Then there are those with the addition of saffron, which gives the rice its typical yellow color.
You can find red rice arancini, with the addition of tomato, stuffed with meat sauce! There is no shortage of vegetarian versions, filled with vegetables. Variants of baked arancini, lighter than the classic fried arancini.
What we are going to show you now is the authentic arancini recipe, made with the most famous fillings and different shapes.
We will explain how to stuff them and give the desired shape, how to bread in the right way and finally how to fry them.
Your arancini will have a crispy crust that hides a soft and tasty heart. With our arancini recipe you will amaze your guests who will think they have landed in Sicily!
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How to Make Arancini Recipe
- Prep Time: 60 Min+ the cooling time for the rice
- Cook Time: 45 Min
- Servings: 10 arancini
- 500 g (2 3/4 cups) of vialone nano rice
- 1/4 teaspoon of saffron (powder or crushed threads)
- 30 g (1/4 stick) of unsalted butter
- 100 g (1 cup) of grated Parmigiano cheese
- 1,2 liter (5 cups) of water
- 5 g (1 teaspoon) of coarse salt
The Meat Sauce Filling:
- 1 little onion
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 medium carrot
- 100 g (3,5 oz) of ground pork
- 100 g (3,5 oz) of ground beef
- 200 ml (4/5 cup) of tomato passata. You can try Italian Passata rustica by Sanniti or make it with our tomato passata recipe
- 100 g (3,5 oz) of peas (fresh or frozen)
- 60 g (2 oz) of caciocavallo cheese or mozzarella
- 50 ml (1/5 cup) of dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Fine salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
The Ham and Mozzarella Filling:
- 30 g (1 oz) of ham
- 60 g (2 oz) of mozzarella cheese
For Breading and Frying:
- 200 g (1 1/4 cups) of all purpose flour
- 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) of water
- 1/3 teaspoon of salt
- 300 g (2 3/4 cups) of breadcrumbs
- 2 liters (8 1/2 cups) of oil for frying
How to Make Rice Sticky for Arancini Recipe
BEFORE YOU START: First you need to prepare a creamy, starchy rice with saffron. The rice will need to cool, so if you want you can make it the day before and store it in the refrigerator.
You can also make a traditional saffron risotto with soffritto, broth and white wine. But this yellow rice recipe is the one used in Sicily, that is easier to make but, above all, it makes the rice sticky. That’s is necessary to mold the arancini.
Let’s see how to do it!
Step 1) – You’ll need a high-sided non-stick pan to cook the rice. Add the water and salt. Strictly stick to the doses given. Bring to a boil. Then add the rice.
The rice must completely absorb the water. It’ll take about 15 minutes. This will allow the starch to remain fully in the pot so you’ll get a rather dry and compact rice.
Now dissolve the saffron in very little hot water and add it to the cooked rice.
Step 2) – Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon, then add the butter cut into small pieces.
Step 3)- Add Parmigiano and stir. Season with salt if necessary (taste it!). Now you have made a creamy and starchy saffron risotto. Place it on a large plate or tray.
Step 4) – Level it carefully with a wooden spoon and then cover with cling film (it’ll prevent the rice surface from drying out and crusting). Now the rice has to cool down so let it do it out the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Arancini Recipe: How to Make Meat Sauce Filling
Step 5) – In a non-stick frying pan, sauté the diced carrot, celery and onion in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for 2 minutes.
Then add the ground meat. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 6) – Then add the red wine and let it evaporate over high heat. Finally add the tomato passata.
Step 7) – Leave to simmer, covered with a lid, for about 30 minutes.
If you are using fresh or frozen peas, add them after about 10 minutes. For canned peas instead, wash them thoroughly and add them after 20 minutes.
If the meat sauce is getting too dry, add 2 tablespoons of water. Season with salt and pepper. The meat sauce is ready. Set aside.
Arancini Recipe: How to Mold Italian Rice Balls
Now we are going to show you how to mold Italian rice balls with your hands.
TRICK: Keep a bowl full of water next to you: wet hands will help you give the arancini the desired shape.
Step 8) – Place one hand to form a basin, as if you would like to collect water. Put the rice in a palm, flatten it with your other hand, creating a hole. Now place the meat sauce.
Step 9) – Add 2/3 pieces of caciocavallo cheese or mozzarella, as you prefer. Now close the arancini with more rice. Keep adding rice till you form a ball.
Step 10) – You can give different shapes to the arancini, depending on the filling, to distinguish them before serving. We chose a conical shape for the arancini with meat sauce and peas, and a round shape for the arancini with ham and mozzarella cheese.
To give the arancini a cone shape, do like this: reach your hands in prayer, with your palms always concave and turn the rice ball in your hands. Doing so, wet often your hands, it’ll be easier. Then, with the lower part of the palms, give a slight push upwards in order to shape the flat base of the arancini.
Arancini with Ham and Mozzarella
Step 11) – Cut ham and mozzarella into small pieces.
Step 12) – Follow the same steps. Fill the hollow you have created in the rice with prosciutto and mozzarella. Add rice until the rice ball is completely closed.
Step 13) – Now, with the help of your (wet) hands, give it a round shape.
Remember that the round or cone shape is only for distinguishing arancini of different flavors. If you opted for only one flavor, of course the ball is the easiest shape.
Once you’ve made all the arancini, you can keep them in the fridge for 2 – 3 days (or freeze them) before frying.
How to Bread and Fry Arancini
Step 14) – Make a batter with water, flour and a pinch of salt. Then dip the arancini, one by one, in the batter, taking care to cover them entirely.
Then roll them in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly with your fingers to make it stick well to the arancini.
Step 15) – For frying, choose a pot with high sides, in which to deep-fry in plenty of vegetable oil (2 arancini at a time) when the oil is ready at 175°C (350 F).
You can find out the perfect temperature with a kitchen thermometer or by dipping a toothpick: if it creates many little bubbles, the oil is ready!
Step 16) – Fry for about 2 minutes or till the arancini take on a golden color. Drain on paper towels and enjoy!
Arancini can also be baked in the oven, at 180°C (356°F) until golden brown. This is a light version with a longer cooking time, around 25 to 30 minutes.
Prepare the arancini and bread them as indicated in the recipe.
Place the arancini on a baking pan covered with baking paper. Drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil. Finally bake in the middle rack of the preheated oven.
How to Store Arancini
You can keep already fryed arancini in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Reheat them in the oven at 200°C (390 F) for 10 minutes before serving.
Finally, you can freeze them raw, only if you have used all fresh and not defrosted ingredients; fry them frozen if necessary.
Arancini Recipe: Some Local Variations
In Sicily there are many variations of Arancini recipe, even more than 30.
Among these you can find white arancini (without saffron), usually stuffed with a filling of ham and mozzarella. Then arancini with saffron like the ones of this recipe, which gives the rice its typical yellow color.
On the contrary, red arancini are made adding a bit of tomato, usually stuffed with meat sauce. Finally you can find even vegetarian arancini, stuffed with vegetables.
About cooking, many people prefer baked arancini, that are lighter than the classic fried ones.
Arancini vary even in shape and size.
In Palermo, for example, they are large and round in shape; in the Catania area they are smaller, with shapes that identify the filling: flat-based and cone-shaped with meat sauce filling; round with ham and mozzarella filling; egg-shaped with chicken or spinach.
Why are Sicilian Rice Balls called Arancini in Italy?
The name arancini di riso comes from their shape, which resembles that of an orange (arancia), in addition to being almost as large as an orange and as yellow (because of the breading) as the citrus fruit
In fact, arancini can change both name – depending on the area of Sicily (in Palermo they are called arancine) – and shape (in some cities they have a shape resembling a pear).
Actually, the difference between Palermo’s arancine di riso, arancini alla messinese, arancini alla catanese, and arancini alla ragusana is mainly in shape and size.
Arancini Recipe: Some Curiosities and Origins
It all began during the Arab domination (827-1091), which in 200 years brought culture, poetry, arts, stunning monuments and, in particular, cuisine to Sicily.
Regarding the history of Arancini, it’s certain that the Arabs used to eat a rice timbale flavored with saffron.
In fact, during banquets, they would place a tray laden with saffron rice in the center of the table and eat it by balling it up in their fist and topping it with lamb and vegetables.
For breading, however, we have to wait a few more years.
The crisp breading, in fact, would have ensured excellent preservation of the rice and seasoning, as well as better portability. In fact, it’s assumed that, initially, arancino was considered primarily a take-out food, to be eaten while working in the countryside or on hunting trips.
After the discovery of the Americas, tomato was also introduced as an ingredient, which, over time, was used to prepare the meat sauce, used today as the main ingredient.