Arancini di Riso Siciliani – Sicilian Rice Balls Recipe

  • by Nonna Box June 28, 2018
  • |
  • Last Updated on November 28, 2022
Authentic Arancini Sicilian Rice Balls

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!

What is arancini?

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. 

What do you need to make this recipe?

Equipment:

  • Saucepans – You need a few saucepans to make the rice and fillings.
  • Large Pot – A deep pot is needed to fry the arancini.
  • Sheet Pan- To place the formed arancini while you are assembling them.
  • Ice Cream Scoop – Can be used to help portion out the risotto into equal size balls.
  • Slotted Spoon – Helps to safely remove the Italian rice balls from the hot oil once they are cooked.
  • Kitchen Thermometer – Need to monitor the temperature of the frying oil.

Time:

  • Prep – 15 minutes
  • Cooking the rice – 20 minutes
  • Making the fillings – 45 minutes
  • Chilling and resting the rice – 90 minutes
  • Assembling – 10 minutes
  • Frying – 10 minutes

What ingredients do you need to make this recipe? 

  • Arborio Rice – You need arborio rice or Rome rice to make the outer rice layer for the arancini. Other types of rice will not compact and hold together to form arancini.
  • Vegetable Broth – Used to both flavor and cook the rice. You can also use chicken stock if you prefer. 
  • Saffron – A classic spice used to season risotto that adds a lovely aromatic layer of flavor. Make sure it is dissolved in the broth before you add it to the rice.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Used to saute the veggies. Choose a high-quality extra virgin olive oil for the most flavorful arancini.
  • Butter – Always use unsalted butter in cooking to control the amount of added salt. The butter is used to add richness to the rice and bechamel sauce. 
  • Flour – Simple all-purpose flour is all that is needed to thicken the bechamel sauce and make a batter to coat the arancini before covering them in breadcrumbs. 
  • Milk – Use whole milk for the bechamel to produce the best taste and texture.
  • Peas – Fresh or frozen peas will work.
  • Onion – You need finely chopped onion to make the rice and ragu. Brown or yellow onion will add the most flavor.
  • Carrot – Finely chopped carrot is used in the ragu for a bit of sweetness.
  • Celery – One stalk of finely chopped celery is sauteed with the onion and carrot to add more flavor to the ragu.
  • Bay Leaf – Just one leaf of this aromatic is cooked with the ground meats to add herby flavor.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano – A higher quality of Parmesan cheese that adds amazing salty aged cheese flavor. Use the best Parmigiano-Reggiano you can afford for the most flavorful arancini. It needs to be grated and helps to bind the rice. 
  • White Scamorza Cheese – A semi-soft cheese made of cow’s milk or a mixture of cow and sheep. It’s very similar to Mozzarella. For this recipe, it’s cubed and used to fill half of the arancini.
  • Ham – Mixed together with the bechamel and scamorza cheese to fill the arancini. Use quality ham.
  • Ground Pork and Veal – Equal parts of these 2 ground meats are used in the ragu. Veal is traditionally used in Italy, yet you can use ground beef if you can’t find ground veal.
  • White Wine – A bit of dry white wine is needed for the tomato sauce to add a bit of acid and develop the flavor. 
  • Tomato Pulp – Also known as crushed tomatoes in some countries, it’s needed for the ragu and adds some texture. 
  • Tomato Paste – A concentrated tomato product thinned out with water and used in the red sauce.
  • Salt – The most important seasoning used to enhance the natural flavors of all the ingredients. 
  • Breadcrumbs – Regular breadcrumbs are used to coat the arancini before frying. Panko will work too, but classic breadcrumbs are more traditional.
  • Oil – Corn oil was used in this arancini recipe. However, you can use any type of oil for frying as long as it has a high smoke point.

How to make this recipe step by step 

1. Make the rice

To start, you need to cook the rice to al dente. Just like when making traditional risotto, it’s important not to overcook the rice for the best texture. Then chill it for at least 3 hours. The rice must be cold in order to both form and stuff the arancini. 

Make the rice

2. Make the fillings and batter

While the rice is cooking you can prepare the two fillings. Once they are made, they both need to be cooled off just like the rice. Room temperature is fine for them. Then whisk together the batter to bread the arancini and move on to the next step.

3. Organize the ingredients 

Before you begin making the arancini you want to have everything you need laid out like an assembly line. This includes the cooked chilled rice, fillings, batter, and breadcrumbs as well as any baking trays or racks you are using. Being organized will make the process a breeze. 

Prepare the ingredients and lay them on a tray

4. How to form and the fill arancini

To make the arancini first form 18 tennis ball size portions of chilled rice into balls. The rice must be chilled to do this step. Then keep 9 of them as balls and form the 9 into an oval shape. Now, place all the molded rice balls onto a baking sheet or a baking dish lined with parchment paper and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Giving them this time to rest will make them easier to fill. 

Model the sicilian arancino with your hands

Once they have sat for 30 minutes, grab one of the risotto balls in one hand and make a hole on the top of it using the thumb of your other hand. Next, make the hole bigger by carefully pushing down into the center. Do this one risotto ball at a time, placing them back on the tray as you finish making a hole in each one. 

Now, divide both of the fillings into 9 portions before you begin stuffing the Italian rice balls. The round balls will be filled with ragu and the ovals will be filled with the ham mixture and then molded into cones. To do this, take a rice ball and fill the hole with the portioned out filling. Then push the filling down while pushing the rice over it to close the hole. Finally, roll the stuffed Italian rice ball in your hands to form its shape and smooth out any cracks. This is also when you will turn the ovals into cones. Again, do this one arancini ball at a time and then place it back on the tray.

Here you see a ham and cheese filled arancini formed into a cone shape after being filled.

The perfect shape for arancina

5. How to bread the arancini

Now that the arancini are stuffed and formed, you need to bread them. First, give your batter a quick whisk to make sure it’s smooth. Next, dip each rice ball into the batter. 

the balls in the pastella

Then add it to the bread crumbs and roll it around to coat. You will want to press the breadcrumbs into the balls with your hands to help them adhere. Then set the breaded arancini back on the tray and continue with the rest.

Here’s the traditional shape of the Sicilian ball. This is what your meat sauce breaded and filled rice balls will look like before being fried.

cover the rice balls with breadcrumbs
here's the traditional shape of the sicilian ball

6. How to fry the arancini

To begin, heat the oil to 390°F in a deep pot. For safety reasons, it’s important that you do not heat the oil until just a few minutes before you are ready to fry the arancini and use a kitchen thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. Then add the breaded arancini to the hot oil and fry them for about 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. You may need to fry the arancini in batches depending on the size of your pot. Then place the fried arancini on a wire rack or paper towel lined plate to drain a bit of the oil and serve immediately.

Authentic Sicilian Arancini Rice Balls

Expert Tips 

  • Use high-quality meats, cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil. Italian cuisine is based on recipes with fewer ingredients which means that their quality matters more. 
  • Do not add more than half of the stock to the rice to start. Doing so will impact how the risotto cooks. Adding a small amount of stock at a time is crucial.
  • You must chill the cooked rice so that it becomes more compact and moldable. It is not possible to skip this step and have success forming arancini.
  • Completely cool the bechamel before mixing it together with the ham and cheese. You don’t want hot bechamel to melt the pieces of cheese.
  • Create an assembly line before you begin stuffing the rice balls. This will make the process much easier and create more uniform arancini.
  • Wet your hands when forming the risotto balls to prevent the rice from sticking to them. 
  • Do not overcrowd the pot when frying the arancini. This helps them brown more evenly and also prevents you from possibly burning yourself.

FAQs

Why are my arancini balls falling apart?

The most common reasons that arancini doesn’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.

Can I make arancini with regular rice?

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.

Can I make arancini with leftover risotto?

Yes! The rice used to make arancini is essentially risotto so it will work.

Do you put egg in arancini balls?

Traditional arancini recipes like this one do not include eggs. The cooked arborio rice and grated cheese are what hold the rice balls together.

Can I make arancini ahead of time?

Yes! You can make them up to 2 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.

How long will arancini last in the fridge?

Cooked arancini will keep in the fridge for up to 5 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.

Can I freeze arancini?

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.

Typical arancino siciliano

Other street food recipes to try out!

Arancini di riso - Sicilian rice balls recipe

Traditional Arancini Recipe – Sicilian Rice Balls

Arancini, or arancine as Sicilians correctly call these fried risotto balls, are one of the most authentic and world-famous Sicilian street food.
4.57 from 23 votes
Print Pin Rate Save Recipe
Course: Appetizer, Primo, Secondi
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 18 arancini
Calories: 1915kcal
Author: Nonna Box

Ingredients

For the rice:

For the ham and cheese filling (enough for 9 arancini):

  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 3 oz thick sliced quality ham cut into small pieces
  • 4 oz white scamorza cheese or mozzarella cheese, cut into small pieces

For the meat sauce filling (enough for 9 arancini):

  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 oz ground veal
  • 3 oz ground pork
  • 3/4 cup tomato pulp or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste dissolved 6 Tbsp of water
  • salt

For the batter:

  • 2 1/2 cup water
  • 2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper optional

For breading:

  • 3 2/3 cup breadcrumbs

For frying:

  • 3 1/8 quart corn oil

Equipment

  • 3 Saucepans You need a few saucepans to make the rice and fillings.
  • 1 Large pot A deep pot is needed to fry the arancini.
  • 1 Sheet pan To place the formed arancini while you are assembling them
  • 1 Ice cream scoop Can be used to help portion out the risotto into equal size balls
  • 1 Slotted Spoon Helps to safely remove the rice balls from the hot oil once they are cooked.
  • 1 Kitchen Thermometer Need to monitor the temperature of the frying oil.

Instructions

Make the rice

  • 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 butter filling:

  • 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.

Prepare the meat sauce:

  • 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.

Make the batter:

  • 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.
  • Set aside.

Shape the arancini:

  • Form tennis ball size 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.

Fill the arancini:

  • 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.

Fry the arancini:

  • 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. 

Notes

When frying anything you need to know the smoke point of the oil that you are working with and never exceed it for safety reasons. For example, in this recipe, the temperature of the corn oil should never exceed 445°F. So it’s important to always use a kitchen thermometer anytime you are frying.

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2 Responses to “Arancini di Riso Siciliani – Sicilian Rice Balls Recipe”

  1. Hara Maderich says:

    I have been searching for this recipe for 4 years, since we spent a month in Italy. Porchetta sandwiches, arancine, Gelato…Obsessed. Thank you for sharing the recipe. Making them tomorrow. Grazie!

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