Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls), are typically deep-fried rice balls (or risotto) stuffed with mozzarella cheese, peas, and a scrumptious meat or bolognese sauce. As with favorite foods from different regions around the world, this Italian favorite can be prepared in a variety of ways.
How to Eat Sicilian Rice Balls (Arancini)
As kids we enjoyed picking the arancini up like baseballs and just digging right in! We may have dropped a few peas on the floor, but my crazy Sicilian aunts cared more about us enjoying the food then using proper table manners! I wish I could say the same when I served my own kids, but I’m a little more uptight than that.
While some like to enjoy arancini by hand without sauce, others like them served on a plate with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. They are a fantastic dish for celebrations because they look so inviting, all golden brown, and served lined up in rows on a big platter.
Arancini – A Childhood Favorite
This dish is one of many that bring back feelings of total warmth from childhood. On Sundays my parents would pack me, and my three brothers, in the station wagon and head to my grandma’s house. We all loved walking in and smelling all that great home-cooked Italian food while getting our cheeks pinched by all the Italian aunts and uncles.
The taste of food created by loving hands – and simple hugs, laughter and good food – laid that foundation of who I was to become, and always remind me what things are most important in life.
I make arancini to remember all those warm feelings, and to create more warm feelings for my kids and grandkids. This dish is more than just a recipe with ingredients and instructions, it’s more like Auntie’s Connie’s love rolled up in a ball that feeds our tummies and fills our souls.
- 2 cups uncooked sticky rice, cooked according to package instructions (Japanese rice works, but Arborio rice is widely used for this dish)
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 cup peas (I use frozen)
- ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 6-8 cloves of fresh garlic, minced, grated or finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- ½ bell pepper chopped
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, chopped in ½ inch cubes
- a little kosher salt and black pepper
- ½ tsp dried basil
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp parsley
- 1 Tbls fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 Tbls olive oil
- 3-4 cups vegetable oil (for frying the rice balls)
- 3 cups tomato sauce (preferably homemade)
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Heat two tbls of olive oil in a large frying pan; saute onions and green peppers for about five minutes.
- Add ½ the garlic and saute for an additional 30 seconds (don't let it brown).
- Add the ground beef and while browning, add oregano, dried basil, dried and fresh parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Saute for several minutes until beef in browned. Set aside.
- Pour frozen peas in small bowl to let defrost.
- Cook the rice. Note: add salt to the water before cooking the rice - and let the rice sit for about five minutes after it's done steaming.
- While the rice is cooking, heat the oil. It's best to use a deep fryer, but ok to use a medium-sized pot.
- Pour breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl.
- Beat eggs in shallow mixing bowl with a tablespoon of water.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the warm rice and stir in about 1 cup of the sauce. Note: Don't add too much because your rice balls won't hold a shape. The color should be pinkish and should have the flavor of the sauce.
- To the rice mixture, add remaining garlic and ½ cup each of the grated cheese - enough that when you take a bite, you can definitely taste the sharpness of the cheese.
- While the rice mixture is still on the hot side, pick up a handful and spread into palm of hand. In center put a teaspoon of parmigiana cheese, a few peas, ½ tablespoon of the meat, a couple cubes of mozzarella. Then drizzle ½ tablespoon of the sauce.
- Top with another handful of rice and form into ball, making sure to completely cover filling with rice.
- Roll the ball in the egg mixture, and then the breadcrumbs until entire ball is covered evenly.
- Once 3-4 rice balls are formed, gently lower them in the oil one at a time with a slotted, metal spoon.
- After about four minutes, the rice balls should be a nice golden brown. You may need to gently turn them to make sure they brown evenly. Remove them and place on paper towel to drain.
- Repeat this until all are cooked.
- Heat the tomato sauce and add some to a shallow serving dish. Place the rice balls on the sauce, drizzle more sauce on the top of the rice balls and top with shredded parmigiano cheese and some fresh parsley.