Classic Sicilian Arancini (Arancine di Riso) Recipe

Arancini, Sicilian Rice Balls Stuffed with Meat Sauce and Peas
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  • 105 mins
  • Prep: 60 mins,
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Yield: 24 small arancini (serves 6)
Ratings (23)

Arancini, rice balls stuffed with sauce and peas, are one of the best-loved Sicilian snacks and street foods, and they have become increasingly popular throughout Italy and worldwide.

The filling in this recipe is one of the most classic -- a meat ragù, green peas and melty mozzarella, but there are endless other types of fillings including pistachios, mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella, ham, spinach, and more.

The rice is scented with saffron and the rice balls are rolled in breadcrumbs before frying them into croquettes. Usually, they're made with caciocavallo cheese, but since that can be difficult to find outside of Southern Italy, Parmigiano-Reggiano is used in this recipe.

They can be eaten as an antipasto or snack, or even as a meal when coupled with perhaps a salad or soup. 

What You'll Need

  • For the Rice:
  • 10 1/2 ounces (300 g) short-grain rice (Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio)
  • 1 4 teaspoon crushed saffron
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For the Meat Sauce and Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (about 1/2 small) finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped celery
  • 3 ounces (85 g) ground beef
  • 3 ounces (85 g) ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste (doppio concentrato di pomodoro)
  • 1 cup (237 ml) tomato purée (passata di pomodoro)
  • 1/3 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • For the Rice Balls:
  • 4.4 ounces (125 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (optional, you can leave this out for a slightly lighter/less cheesy arancino)
  • 14 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 inches neutral vegetable oil for frying

How to Make It

Make the Rice

  1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, place the rice, saffron and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer about 15 to 20 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed.
  2. Remove lid, stir in grated Parmigiano, butter, salt and pepper to taste. Spread the rice out on a large plate or baking dish to cool completely to room temperature.

Make the Meat Sauce and Filling

  1. First, you'll start with a classic soffritto: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and sauté, stirring often, until softened and the onions are translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground beef and pork and fry, stirring often, until browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the wine and let cook until the alcohol aroma has reduced, about 1 minute.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and tomato purée, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the peas and continue to simmer the sauce for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the peas are tender and the sauce is thickened. It should not be too liquidy.
  5. Transfer the filling to a bowl and set aside to let it cool.

Assemble and Fry the Arancini

  1. Once the rice and filling are completely cooled, start shaping your rice balls.
  2. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of rice in the palm of one hand, then use your fingers and thumb to shape it into a hollow bowl shape.
  3. Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center, 1 to 2 small cubes of diced fresh mozzarella (if using), and then gently close the rice around the filling to form either a round ball shape or a cone/pear shape. 
  4. When all of your arancini have been formed, whisk together the flour, eggs, 1/2 cup of water and a pinch of salt in a shallow bowl until smooth. Spread the bread crumbs in a plate or baking dish.
  5. Gently roll each ball first in the egg-flour-water-salt mixture, letting any excess drip off, then in the breadcrumbs until evenly coated.
  6. At this point, you can refrigerate your arancini for 20 to 30 minutes to let them firm up, if they seem a bit too loose or liquidy. If not, you can go directly to frying.
  7. Heat about 2 inches (5 cm) of neutral frying oil to 360 F (182 C). Fry your arancini in batches of just 2 to 3 at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pot, until they are evenly golden-brown, about 3 minutes.
  8. Transfer them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and serve hot.

What's in a Name?

There is considerable debate among Sicilians themselves as to whether these golden fried rice balls should properly be called arancini (masculine) or arancine (feminine). 

In western Sicily, around Palermo and Agrigento, they're usually called arancine and have a round shape. There, it is argued, that since the name derives from the Italian word arancia (meaning "orange," as in the round fruit that these rice balls resemble in shape and color, arancine meaning "little oranges"), then technically arancine is more correct.

In eastern Sicily, meanwhile, particularly around Messina and Cataniaarancino is the term more commonly used, and the arancini have a more pear-shaped or conical form, rounder at the bottom and pointed at the top. There, the reasoning is that the term derives from the name of the fruit in Sicilian dialect -- arànciu.

It's nearly impossible to say which is really correct since both arguments have some merit although, at this point, arancino has become the more widely diffused name, particularly in English-speaking countries.