Crispy on the outside with a cheesy and meaty center, Arancini is a well-known Italian classic that hails from Sicily. Every family has its own version, but the most common fillings are just a few. It’s composed of breaded balls of risotto that have been stuffed with flavorful creamy fillings and then fried to crisp perfection. In this arancini recipe, we cover 2 types that are both easy to make and absolutely delicious!
Arancini are basically balls of cooked risotto rice that have been stuffed, coated with breadcrumbs, and then fried in hot oil until beautifully golden brown and crisp. They are said to have originated in the 10th century in Sicily when it was under Arab rule and are believed to possibly have been inspired by the middle eastern kibbeh. This is also around the time that saffron was introduced and added to risotto.
In Sicily, arancini are a common street food served year round that you can easily find in Palermo, Cantania, and Messina. Yet, they can be served as a lovely appetizer as well as a snack or quick lunch. The Italian rice balls can be filled with both savory and sweet ingredients. For example, arancini con cioccolato is filled with chocolate! This is why different shapes are used to distinguish one filling from another.
However, the most common types are arancini al ragu, which is filled with a meaty ragu and arancini al burro, which is filled with a mixture of ham and cheese that has been mixed with bechamel. And these are the 2 varieties that we will be covering in this recipe.
For the rice:
For the ham and cheese filling:
For the meat sauce filling:
The rice must be cooked at least a few hours in advance and then be chilled to make arancini
Add the vegetable broth to a medium saucepan along with the saffron and a pinch of salt to season. Now, heat the mixture over medium-low until the saffron dissolves.
In a large pot, heat about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Then add the finely chopped onion and saute it for about 2 minutes until it’s soft and translucent.
Add the arborio rice and toast it for about 3 minutes until it looks pearly.
Pour in half of the warm broth and stir to combine. Now, simmer the rice for about 4 minutes until most of the broth has been absorbed. Then add more broth about 1 cup at a time and cook again until most of the broth has been absorbed after each addition. You also need to stir the rice every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. Continue this process until the rice is cooked to al dente and is sticking together.
When the rice is done cooking, immediately remove it from the heat and immerse the pot into a sink filled with cold water, being careful not to get any water into the pot.
Stir the butter and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the rice.
Cool the cooked rice to room temperature. Then transfer it into a shallow pan, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours.
Prepare the base of the filling by following our easy bechamel recipe. However, for this recipe, the bechamel needs to be smooth and not overly thick.
Allow the bechamel to completely cool.
Add the cut pieces of ham and scamorza cheese to the cooled bechamel and stir to combine.
Saute half of the chopped onion with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Next, add the peas with a pinch of salt, cover them with water, and cook for about 10 minutes. Then drain, transfer to a bowl, and set aside.
Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high in the same pot. Then add the other half of the onion, carrot, and celery along with the bay leaf and saute for about 3 minutes or until just soft.
Add the ground veal and pork to the pot and brown while breaking it up with a wooden spoon into crumbles. This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
Pour in the white wine and cook until it fully evaporates.
Then stir in tomato pulp and dissolved tomato paste with a pinch of salt.
Cook the sauce over low heat for about 30 minutes or until it thickens up and is somewhat dry.
Remove the ragu from the heat. Then gently stir in the drained peas and let it cool.
Add the flour to a deep bowl and season with salt and black pepper (optional).
Add the water and then whisk the mixture together until it’s smooth.
Form tennis ball-sized portions of the chilled risotto into balls for the ragu filled and into cones for the ham and cheese filled, and place them on a tray. You should have about 9 balls and 9 cones when you are finished.
Allow the molded rice to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature so that it becomes more compact and easier to fill.
Make a hole in each rice ball and oval one by one. To do this, hold the ball in one hand and use the thumb of your other hand to create a hole on top and through the center. Then carefully push downward to make the hole bigger. As you finish each one, place them back on the tray until they all have holes.
Divide both fillings into 9 portions. The balls will be filled with ragu and the ovals with the ham mixture.
Fill the hole you made with the prepared filling. Then close the hole by pushing the filling down and the rice over it. Now, roll the filled arancini in your hands to form its shape and smooth out any cracks or holes. At this point turn the ovals into cones for the ham and cheese-filled arancini. For this step, you should fill each arancini one at a time and then place it back on the tray as you fill the others.
Pour the breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl. Then give the batter a quick whisk.
Immerse each filled rice ball one at a time into the batter and then into the breadcrumbs in the shallow bowl, rolling it around to coat while pressing the breadcrumbs to the balls with your hands making sure that they stick. Then place the breaded ball on a parchment paper-lined tray or wire rack. You need to coat each ball one at a time.
Heat the oil to about 390°F in a deep pot. Now, add the arancini and fry them for about 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown.
Then once cooked, place them on a paper towel-lined plate or wire rack to drain a bit of the oil and then serve immediately.
The most common reasons that arancini don’t hold together is due to overstuffing the rice balls or not letting your rice mixture chill long enough in the fridge to become compact.
No, it will not work. This authentic recipe has no egg in it and lower starch rice will not hold together without adding an egg.
Yes! The rice used to make arancini is essentially risotto so it will work.
Traditional arancini recipes like this one do not include eggs. The cooked arborio rice and grated cheese are what hold the rice balls together.
Yes! You can make them up to 3-4 days in advance, which makes them perfect for parties. Then when ready to serve, just reheat them in the oven at 350°F for about 10 minutes.
Cooked arancini will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days when stored in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap. To reheat, simply pop them in the oven at 350°F for a few minutes to crisp them back up.
Yes! Once cooled, just wrap them in plastic or put them in an airtight container and you can freeze them for up to 3 months. To warm, no need to defrost. Just lay them on a baking sheet or a baking dish still frozen and put them into the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes at 350°F.
Other street food recipes to try out!
Other traditional recipes: