Italian Arancini Risotto Balls Recipe
Arancini literally means "little oranges" and comes from the Italian word arancia, meaning "orange." These balls of fried risotto are supposed to resemble oranges.
I first came across arancini whilst watching Inspector Montalbano, an Italian detective series based on the novels of Andrea Camilleri. As well as solving various murders, the main character, Commissario Salvo Montalbano, is extremely passionate about his food, and the dish that excites him the most are the arancini made by his housekeeper. Yes he is acting a part, but I still had to give them a go myself and am now as obsessed as the fictional detective!
This is a dish that has countless variations and can be adapted and experimented with endlessly. You will need a good couple of hours to prepare the arancini. I usually make the risotto and sauce and then put the balls together the following day. This takes the pressure off doing them all in one hit and it's a bit more relaxed and enjoyable.
How to Make Arancini Balls
For the risotto:
- 500g risotto rice
- 800 ml chicken stock
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup or 100 g Parmesan; Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can, as it is the best.
- 1 egg, medium or large, beaten
- 1 tablespoon butter
Additional ingredients for the risotto balls:
- 10 small chunks mozzarella (buffalo mozzarella if you can, as the cheaper versions often lack flavour)
- 2 cups or about 250 g breadcrumbs; homemade is labourious and boring but worth the effort.
- 2 eggs, beaten
For the sauce:
Timing and Yield
- This recipe makes about 10 arancini balls.
- The risotto takes about 10 minutes to prep and half an hour to cook.
- The sauce takes at least 45 minutes to prep and cook.
- They both need cooling time—at least half an hour.
- Making the balls takes 20 minutes and then they need to be kept into the fridge for a minimum of half an hour.
- It takes a minute or so to coat each ball and about 10 minutes to deep fry, depending on the temperature of the oil and the balls.
Step 1: Prepare the Breadcrumbs
The first thing you need to do is grate the breadcrumbs. This is by far the most arduous and dull task but it's worth making your own crumbs rather than buying them ready-made as they won't taste as good. I buy a French loaf, leave it out for a couple of days, and then grate it to within an inch of its life. One French baguette makes more than enough breadcrumbs.
Step Two: Prepare the Risotto
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan on medium heat.
- Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent.
- Add the rice, stirring to coat as much of the rice as possible with the melted butter. Do this for a few minutes, stirring continuously.
- If you have a bottle of white wine open, add a dash and let it absorb into the rice. If you don't, don't worry.
- Next, add a ladleful of stock and stir. Once most of the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful.
- Repeat! Keep up the stirring and adding of stock until the rice is cooked, for about 20 or so minutes. Test whether the rice is cooked by chewing a grain or two to see if it is softened and edible.
- Take it off the heat and set aside.
- After the rice has cooled for about 20 minutes, add the beaten egg and Parmesan. Combine the mixture well without squishing the rice using either your hands or a spoon.
- Put the risotto mixture into the fridge for an hour or two so that it is cold enough to manipulate easily into balls.
If you use up all of your stock, add boiling water to finish off the rice cooking process.
Step Three: Make a Simple Bolognese Sauce
If you can multitask, you can make this sauce while the risotto is cooking...otherwise, make it afterwards.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan on a low heat.
- Add the chopped onions.
- Cook the onions, stirring often, until they are translucent.
- Add the garlic.
- After a couple minutes, add the minced meat and break it up using a spoon.
- Once the mince is lightly browned, add the purée and stir.
- If you have any red wine open, throw in a splash!
- Give it another minute or so and add the tomato sauce/passata, peas, and plenty of seasoning. Going easy on the salt but going to town with the pepper is how I usually do it!
- Keep on stirring and simmering the sauce for at least half an hour, then set it aside to cool to room temperature.
Keep the temperature low to avoid burning the garlic and ruining the dish!
Stir, stir, stir!
The longer the sauce bubbles away, the more flavorsome it will be, but keep on checking and stirring to ensure it doesn't burn and stick at the bottom of the pan.
Step Four: Prepare the Balls
- Gather all your ingredients—the rice, sauce, and mozzarella.
- Wet your hands with cold water, then take a handful of rice in one hand (I go for the left hand but I am left handed!) and press it with your other hand so that you create a hollow, half-bowl shape. (See photos.)
- Get a spoonful of the sauce and put it into the rice to form the centre of the ball.
- Add a chunk of mozzarella.
- Gather up some more rice to finish the shape, moulding with your hands and pushing in any bits of protruding sauce with your finger.
- Once you have made all of your balls, place them in a covered dish in the fridge to firm them up.
You will probably end up with some sauce left over. It tastes pretty good on a potato.
Try not to make the balls too big to start off with. A mistake I often make is making the first few balls massive and then having to make the last few quite small to eek out the remaining rice mixture. It isn't the end of the world if this happens, you will just end of with inconsistently sized balls!
To make the balls easier to manipulate keep wetting your hands.
Take the balls out of the fridge half an hour or so before you are going to fry them as they will cook through faster without the outside potentially getting over done.
Step Five: Coat and Cook the Arancini
Once the arancini have firmed in the refrigerator, they can be coated and cooked.
- Heat the oil on a medium to high heat. You can either use a deep fat fryer or a saucepan filled with enough oil to cover the Arancini.
- Get the beaten egg, breadcrumbs and rice balls to hand.
- Take each ball and coat it firstly in egg and then breadcrumbs making sure that the entire surface area is covered.
- When the oil is sufficiently hot lower in as many Arancini as you want to cook or that will fit.
- They should take about 6-8 minutes but if they have been in the fridge for a while and are very cold they will take around 10-12 minutes to get the middle sufficiently warmed up. If you have left them in the fridge then it may be an idea to take them out half an hour before you want to cook them to let them get to room temperature. I use a temperature probe to check the temperature of the centre as I am rubbish at judging it!
- Once cooked fish them out the fryer and put them on a bit of kitchen roll to soak up some of the grease and then serve! Perhaps add a bit of garnish or salad to give the plate a bit of colour oh and a glass of wine to accompany them of course!
I once decided to give oven cooking the balls a go. I sprayed them with oil and then put them in the microwave on the convection oven setting. They came out fine but in my opinion not quite as tasty as frying them, but it's an option if deep frying is a no no.
There isn't one de facto recipe for Arancini. Every Italian Nonna has their own special recipe. You might like to add potatoes, mushrooms or use a different type of sauce for the centre like bechamel. You can even have sweet versions of the rice balls with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cream.
Hope you enjoy the recipe and experimenting with your own take on Arancini!
How many types of Arancini have you tried?
Questions & Answers
How do your heat arancini balls?
You can either deep fry them or over cook them. They are tastier deep fried, in my opinion! If you're using oil in a saucepan rather than a deep fat fryer then it's best to use a temperature probe. Heat the oil to at least 325 degrees (between 325 and 375) and once you have put the arancini in the temperature will drop slightly, aim to maintain the heat at 250 to 325 degrees. The oil has to stay hot enough to avoid getting soggy balls!