These crispy Italian rice balls aka Arancini are an all time classic and favourite who’s cheesy surprise centers will surely impress the entire crowd. They’re super fun to make and definitely worth every last bit of effort!
Arancini! That’s the word! Say it with me now! ARANCINI! A pretttttty important word in the Italian language, in my humble opinion. Why you ask?! Well, just take one look at these bad boys.
Rice balls have always been a favourite of mine and to put it simply, remind me of my Nonna. When she passed (almost 10 years ago now), it seemed like the delicious rice balls passed along with her. We never really got her real recipe and rice balls were just something my mother never made. It’s not your average quick recipe so, for a busy working mother with three kids, I can see why.
Don’t let that deter you though! I promise you that these rice balls are worth every ounce of effort they take to make. It’s a fun and delicate process and can *almost* be looked at as therapeutic. Just save it for a day when you have nothing else to do. And maybe play some Andrea Bocelli and sip on a glass of Italian wine while you’re at it. Yeah, that kind of day.
While I don’t ever intend to steal the Rice Ball making Queen title from my Nonna, I do have every intention to simply carry it on. However, since I never did get my hands on her recipe these ones are an ode to exactly what I remember hers to be. Therefore, this is the recipe I wholeheartedly stand by when I want Nonna’s arancini. Fried (yeah, I said it) to crispy golden perfection with a piece of cheese perfectly hidden in the center. I always thought adding peas to her arancini was her magic little weapon. I’m thinking that alone would make her pretty proud cause I sure as hell know what it makes me!
WHAT IS AN ARANCINI BALL?
Arancini are Italian stuffed and fried rice balls that, if you’ve never had the pleasure of ever shoving into your pie hole, YOU (QUITE PLAIN AND SIMPLY) GOTTA. There are many different types of rice balls in terms of fillings that can range anywhere from minced meat, to veggies, cheeses and tomato sauce.
Obviously, every rice ball has some sort of rice in them. Think risotto style (FYI, leftover risotto works great for these!). Then, trying to keep things as similar to my Nonna’s version as I can remember, I just haaaad to have some hidden ooey-gooey, cheesy centers. Need I go on? I know I don’t neeeed to, however, how about also envisioning perfectly cooked ground beef, peas, freshly grated parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and homemade tomato sauce in the mix? Finally, all rolled up, breaded and fried to crispy perfection. Ok, I’m done.
Honestly, these rice balls are so good, I have to literally stop myself from eating all the filling before forming any balls!
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE THESE CHEESY ITALIAN RICE BALLS
Arancini are like a work of art! There is a bit of a process involved but don’t be intimidated! It’s fun and not hard by any means. You can even get the kids involved! Let’s talk about the ingredients you’ll need to make these Arancini Balls in a little bit more detail down below:
- Rice: The bulk of our rice ball filling (duh). We keep things simple here and use good ol’ white jasmine rice. Unrinsed and uncooked if you’re making the recipe from scratch as written in the recipe card. However, you can also use arborio rice (which is the typical rice used for making risotto) or straight up leftover risotto if you’re looking for ways to use it up.
- Ground Beef: I love adding a little meat to my arancini balls for extra flavour and texture. I normally opt to use either ground beef or Italian sausage for this Arancini recipe. However, you can also use ham, pancetta, ground chicken or turkey or no meat at all, if you prefer.
- Mozzarella Cheese: Responsible for the ooey, gooey and deliciously melted surprise centers. I normally use pizza mozzarella cut into cubes for this recipe. However, fresh mozzarella (or mini bocconcini) could also be a delicious surprise!
- Parmesan Cheese: Adds a sharp richness to the dish. Besides, a little extra cheese never hurt anybody, am I right?! Freshly grated works best in this recipe.
- Peas: The ingredient that reminds me most of my Nonna’s famous rice balls and one I’ve always loved about her version. They add the perfect texture, soft crunch and go so well with all the other ingredients. Frozen peas work best in this recipe and don’t need to be thawed first.
- Onion: Adds texture and flavour to the rice ball mixture. White or yellow onion works best in this recipe.
- Wine: Adds a delicious light and refreshing flavour to the arancini filling. I’m not so sure my Nonna would have added any wine to her rice balls so I like to consider this one my secret ingredient. Although the alcohol cooks offs, if you want to make this recipe alcohol free, just skip the wine completely. However, if you’re going to use it, a dry white wine (such as a chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio) works best in this recipe.
- Chicken Broth: Adds flavour and helps cook the rice filling to sticky perfection resembling risotto. Although I personally prefer the flavour that comes from the chicken broth, you can use vegetable or beef broth instead, if you prefer.
- Parsley: Adds a herby freshness to the filling and a pop of colour to the final product. Fresh is best in this recipe. You can use fresh basil instead of parsley, if you prefer.
- Butter: Adds flavour, for sautéeing. You can use oil (such as olive or avocado) instead, if you prefer.
- Salt: Brings all the flavours to life and balances out the entire dish.
- Tomato Sauce: Not actually part of the filling or makings of the physical rice ball. However, one of the most important ingredients here as arancini should never be served without some warm tomato sauce for dipping. Yum! Homemade or store bought works well in this recipe.
- Flour: Part 1 of our dredging station. The first layer to thinly coat the rice balls adding texture and flavour. Also helps with the browning process
- Eggs: Part 2 of our dredging station. Egg adds flavour to the rice balls and allows the breadcrumbs and seasonings to stick perfectly all the way around.
- Breadcrumbs: Part 3 of our dredging station giving the Italian rice balls their final coat before frying. Gives them that nice golden brown crispy looking exterior. Italian seasoned work best in this recipe.
HOW TO MAKE ITALIAN RICE BALLS AKA ARANCINI (KEY TIPS)
- No need to rinse your rice before adding it to the pot. I know, I know. Some of you swear by rinsed rice. And normally, so do I. However, this recipe for Arancini is different. The starch released from the unrinsed rice while cooking helps it become the perfect sticky risotto like texture we look for in a good rice ball filling.
- In order to be able to form your arancini, the filling needs to be cool enough to touch/handle. Spread the rice mixture out onto a parchment lined baking sheet to speed up the cooling process. The bigger the sheet pan, the quicker the mixture will cool and the sooner you can start forming the arancini balls.
- Make all of the arancini balls first and then move on to dredging and breading them. Since the dredging process is sticky and messy, it doesn’t make sense to try and do both at once. Get all your balls made up and ready to go and then do the breading afterwards.
- Wash your hands frequently when dredging the arancini. The flour, egg and breadcrumb part can be pretty messy and a lot will stick to your fingers. I like to wash my hands between every 2 rice balls to prevent it from heavily caking on.
- Shake off the excess flour and egg before coating the arancini in breadcrumbs for maximum flavour. EXTRA TIP: Really ensure that the breadcrumb coating is as good as you can get it all the way around. Lightly press it into the rice ball with the palm of your hands. There should be no missing spots with every inch of the surface nicely coated.
- Use a high heat oil for frying and be careful as this can be a somewhat dangerous task. I like using canola or vegetable oil for this. Only add about an inch of oil to the pot which should be more than enough to fry all your rice balls perfectly.
- Make sure your oil is hot, hot, hot before attempting to fry your rice balls. Trust me. The last thing you want to do is to drop your balls (sorry, had to) in oil that isn’t hot enough. The breadcrumb coating will absorb all that oil making them taste super oily instead of delicious and allll your hard work will be ruined. Nobody wants that. EXTRA TIP: Do yourself a favour and use a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil before beginning to fry your arancini. It should be at least 350°.
- Work in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the arancini won’t cook evenly all the way around. You need room to turn them around a few times as they’re frying in the pot, too, so you’re only making your job harder by overcrowding the pan. EXTRA TIP: If you want to keep the cooked rice balls warm as you work through frying the other batches, place them on a lined baking sheet and pop them in the oven at about 200°.
- Transfer any cooked rice balls from the oil to a paper towel lined dish or baking sheet to allow any excess oil to seep off and be absorbed for a few minutes before eating.
- Hit the arancini with a sprinkling of salt as soon as you take them out of the oil. The salt will add that perfect final touch of flavour to the crispy exterior and since they’re fresh and hot out of the fryer, it’ll have no problem sticking perfectly to the golden coating.
- Don’t forget the warm tomato sauce for serving. It’s almost a crime to not serve these babies with tomato sauce. Although not part of the actual ingredient list persay, tomato sauce really sends these cheesy Italian rice balls over the top!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Any cooked leftover rice balls can be stored in an airtight container and kept in the fridge. They’ll be good for up to 5 days.
I would highly recommend reheating your rice balls in an oven on low heat, for 10-15 mins, or until warmed all the way through. They’re most likely to keep their crispy exteriors that way. Microwaving is always an option – in one minute increments for up to 5 minutes (or as long as needed). But, keep in mind that they tend to become a little soggy when reheated in a microwave.
Absolutely! Simply line them up side by side (not touching) on a parchment lined baking sheet and stick them in the freezer for a few hours, until mostly frozen. Then, toss them in a large ziploc bag or freezer safe container. No need to thaw before cooking although you may need to add an additional few minutes to ensure they’re cooked all the way through and the cheese melts in the center.
Yes, you can bake these Italian Arancini Balls for a healthier alternative, if you wish! Time will depend but I’m going to say a 400° oven for 30-40 minutes should do the trick. Turn them a few times throughout baking to ensure even cooking and crispness all the way around.
Ah, the list for what to serve with these Arancini Balls is endless! A true Italian would tell you that no matter what you do, you can’t forget the warmed up tomato sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
I love serving these rice balls alongside a pasta dish like this Cream Cheese Pasta Bake or this classic Italian Pasta Sarde. Or, something simple, like this Garden Tomato Salad, Cucumber Salad with Dill or Kale Caesar Salad. French Onion Soup is always a good starter to any meal. And of course, you can never go wrong with a side of roasted veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Or, you could keep up with the Italian theme and go for something like this Cheesy Chicken Skillet. See? The options are truly endless.
- 1 pound Ground Beef
- 5 cups Chicken Broth, heated on stove
- 2 cups Jasmine Rice, un-rinsed
- 1 cup Dry White Wine*
- 1 cup Frozen Peas
- 1 medium White Onion, finely diced
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tbsp Salt
- 1/3 cup Fresh Parsley, chopped
- 1 cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
- 14 1 inch Mozzarella Cubes*
- 1 cup All Purpose Flour
- 4 Eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups Seasoned Italian Breadcrumbs
- Canola or Vegetable Oil
- 2 cups Warm Tomato Sauce, for serving*
- Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, for serving
- Make the Filling
- In a large pot with a tight fitting lid, heat the butter and oil on medium high heat. When hot, add the diced onion and sautée, stirring frequently, until translucent but not burnt - about 4 or 5 minutes.
- In a separate skillet at the same time, brown the ground beef over medium heat and drain any excess fat/liquid.
- Once mostly browned and drained, add the beef into the pot with the onion and stir to combine. Cook for a couple minutes until the meat is completely browned and no red parts remain.
- Add the rice and give it a good stir, tossing everything until well combined and coated with the butter/oil.
- At this point, ensure your chicken broth is in another sauce pot heating on low heat (we want it to be hot when adding it to the rice mixture but not boiling).
- Pour the wine into the rice pot and cook until mostly evaporated stirring occasionally (about 2-3 minutes).
- Add all the hot chicken broth and salt and stir. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Stir in the peas and return the lid to the pot and allow to cook for an extra few minutes.
- Turn the heat off (there shouldn't be any liquid remaining) and spread the rice out evenly on a parchment rimmed baking sheet to help it cool enough to be able to touch.
- Once the rice is at room temperature (about 15 minutes), stir in the fresh chopped parsley and shredded parmesan cheese making sure that everything is well combined.
To Assemble and Fry
- Put a few tablespoons of the mixture into the palm of one hand. Put the mozzarella cube in a small hole in the center and enclose it by adding a few more tablespoons of the rice mixture over top. Tightly shape the rice into medium sized balls using both hands (think a bit smaller than a tennis ball). I like to make all my balls first, washing my hands in between if it gets too sticky, and lay them on a cookie sheet until the next step.
- Set up 3 shallow bowls in this order: 1 cup of flour, 4 beaten eggs and 1.5 cups of Italian breadcrumbs.
- One at a time, roll each ball in flour first, shaking off the excess, then dip into the beaten eggs, rolling to coat. Pick it up and allow the excess to drip off the ball and back into the bowl. Lastly, roll the ball into the breadcrumbs, rolling and tossing to ensure that the entire ball is nicely and evenly coated in the crumbs. Line 'em back up on the baking sheet until all the balls are breaded and ready to fry.
- Pour the oil into a heavy bottomed stock pot and heat on medium heat. Be careful to watch it and ensure it doesn't burn or begin to smoke (that means you have it too high). It's ready when you flick a drop of water into it and it sizzles - this should take about 15-20 minutes. Ta-da! You just made a homemade deep fryer (you can use a real one if you have it!). PRO TIP: Use a thermometer to check that the temperature of the oil is at least at 350° before beginning.
- Once hot, work in batches and add the rice balls. I normally do 3 at a time and use a slotted spoon to keep moving/turning them around so each side gets nicely golden browned. Don't overcrowd the pot. Each batch of balls should take around 3 minutes in total. Transfer them to a paper towel lined tray or plate and immediately sprinkle with salt after coming out of the hot oil. Serve with warmed marinara, extra parmesan cheese and chopped fresh basil, if desired.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 400Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 115mgSodium: 1348mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 24g
Nutrition is only an estimate and calculated using Nutritionix.
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