Classic Sicilian Arancini (Arancine di riso al ragu' e piselli)

Arancini, Sicilian Rice Balls Stuffed with Meat Sauce and Peas
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    105 mins
Ratings (16)

Arancini are one of the best-loved Sicilian snacks and street foods, and they have become increasingly popular throughout Italy and worldwide. There is considerable debate, however, between 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, though at this point "arancino" has become the more widely diffused name, particularly in English-speaking countries.

Whichever shape or name you use, they are delicious and satisfying. 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 filling: pistachios, mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella, ham, spinach, etc. The rice is scented with saffron and the rice balls are rolled in breadcrumbs before frying them into fragrant croquettes. Usually they're made with caciocavallo cheese, but since that can be difficult to find outside of Southern Italy, we use Parmigiano-Reggiano 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:
  • 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces/300 grams) short-grain rice (Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio) 
  • 14 teaspoon crushed saffron
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • FOR THE MEAT SAUCE/FILLING:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (about 12 small) finely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped carrot
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped celery
  • 3 ounces (85 grams) ground beef
  • 3 ounces (85 grams) ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce/30 ml) red wine
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste (doppio concentrato di pomodoro)
  • 1 cup (237 ml) tomato puree (passata di pomodoro)
  • 1/3 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • FOR THE RICE BALLS:
  • 1 small ball (4.4 ounces/125 grams) fresh mozzarella cheese, diced (optional, you can leave this out for a slightly lighter/less cheesy arancino)
  • 14 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • Neutral vegetable oil, for frying

How to Make It

Prepare the rice:

Place the rice, saffron and 1 1/2 cups water in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer over low heat about 15-20 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. 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 sauce/filling:

First you'll start with a classic soffritto: Heat the olive oil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute, stirring often, until softened and the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the beef and pork and saute, stirring often, until browned, about 5-8 minutes. Add the wine and let cook until the alcohol aroma has reduced, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and puree, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and continue to simmer the sauce for another 8-10 minutes, or until the peas are tender and the sauce is thickened. It should not be too liquidy. Transfer the filling to a bowl and set aside to let it cool.

Assemble and fry the arancini:

Once the rice and filling are completely cooled, start shaping your rice balls: 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. Place about 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center, 1-2 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. 

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.

Gently roll each ball first in the egg-flour mixture, letting any excess drip off, then in the bread crumbs until evenly coated. At this point, you can refrigerate your arancini for 20-30 minutes to let them firm up, if they seem a bit too loose or liquidy. If not, you can go directly to frying:

Heat about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of neutral frying oil to 360 °F (182 °C). Fry your arancini in batches of just 2-3 at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pot, until they are evenly golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer them to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and serve hot.