Welcome to the world of rice arancini—a delicious, comforting, and versatile street food delight! In this post, I’ll dive into the history of these scrumptious rice balls and share a traditional recipe with two mouthwatering fillings. Prepare to embark on a culinary adventure and discover the secrets to making perfect arancini. Let’s get started!

Servings

 

10 to 12

Ready In:

 

3 hours

Calories:

 

508

Good For:

 

Picnics

About this Recipe

By: Silvana Lanzetta

I can totally relate to the widespread love for rice arancini! They’re hands-down one of the best street foods out there. I remember back in my broke university days, grabbing an arancino for lunch was the perfect treat. You’re not alone in your adoration for these scrumptious little bites!

In Naples, they’re known as “pall’ e ris,” which means rice balls. The Neapolitan version is smaller, with more tomato sauce, but still equally delightful. However, today, I’m sharing with you  the traditional Sicilian recipe, which, in my opinion, takes the cake.

Here’s a little trick I use: whenever I make ragù alla Siciliana, I whip up some extra, just for arancini. Storing the ragù in the fridge for a couple of days lets the flavours meld and intensify, making it even more mouthwatering. Plus, it makes preparing arancini later on so much easier!

three sicilian arancini on a white plate.
Sicilian Orange trees grove

Orange grove in Sicily

Wines

Arancini, the undeniable star of Italian street food, likely originated in Sicily between the 9th and 11th centuries. You know, the name “arancino” comes from its uncanny resemblance to an orange, a fruit that Sicily is well-known for. 

Its ancestor is actually the timballo, a dish invented by the Arabs.

Picture this: during lavish banquets, the Arabs (who ruled Sicily back then) would serve a tray of saffron-flavoured rice topped with meat and vegetables. Everyone would dig in with their hands! 

The crispy breading we love today was a later innovation, credited to the cooks of Frederick II of Swabia‘s court. They needed a way for their king to enjoy rice arancini on his hunting trips, so they came up with the genius idea of wrapping them in a breadcrumb coating. This not only made them portable but also helped preserve the rice and filling.

Now, there are quite a few theories about the arancini’s true origins. Some say they were created in convents, others in baronial houses, and some even believe they were born from popular cuisine traditions, transforming leftovers into something imaginative and delicious. But in the end, arancini are a beautiful blend of Sicily’s diverse historical influences: the Arab touch in the rice and saffron, the French flair in the ragù, the Greek influence in the cheese, and the American (via Spain) twist with tomatoes: they then became the main ingredient in the classic ragù filling we know today.

Ragu alla siciliana
boiled rice close up

Nutrition

 

Rice Arancini is a delicious and indulgent dish. This recipe is a calorie-dense, flavourful dish that contains a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, with the majority of the calories coming from rice. The recipe can be adjusted for a healthier option by incorporating whole-grain flour, lean meats, and alternative cooking methods, such as baking or air-frying.

  • Proteins 27% 27%
  • Carbs 57% 57%
  • Fats 25% 25%
opened rice arancini close up, with meat and peas ragu filling

The Ingredients

Rice

When it comes to making arancini, choosing the right rice is key. You’ll want a super starchy variety to ensure your rice balls are sticky and easy to shape. Trust me on this: Carnaroli rice is your best bet. Its high starch content makes it perfect for this recipe. But don’t worry too much if you can’t find it—Arborio rice will work fine too!

Fillings

The beauty of rice arancini fillings is that it’s so wonderfully diverse! In my recipe, I’m sharing two delicious options: a simple cheese and ham filling called “al burro” and the traditional Palermitan version featuring a mouthwatering dollop of Sicilian ragù. Sometimes cheese is added to the ragù filling, but the oldest version only mixes cheese with the rice to make it extra sticky.

But hey, feel free to get creative with your arancini fillings! Go vegetarian with a combo of mushrooms and cheese (porcini and taleggio are divine), or try spinach and mozzarella, or even burrata and mortadella. The sky’s the limit when it comes to these delectable delights!

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Saffron
Let’s talk about saffron, the heart and soul of rice arancini! You can’t make arancini without this golden spice. But be careful—there are plenty of fake saffron products out there. You’ll know you’ve got the real deal when it releases its vibrant yellow colour slowly and leaves those beautiful strands visible in the rice.
For this recipe, I recommend using two sachets of saffron, which usually amounts to just under 1 gram. That’s the right amount for 500 grams of rice. So go ahead, be generous with that pinch of saffron, and watch the magic happen!
Breading
The secret to a perfect arancini coating lies in the batter! You want it to be the right consistency, similar to tempura. When making the batter, add water slowly so you can control its thickness. You’ll know it’s ready when it evenly coats your spoon. If you’re unsure, look up a video on making tempura batter to get the hang of it. Just don’t add eggs.
Now, once your arancini are covered in that lovely batter, it’s time to roll them in breadcrumbs. This simple yet delightful coating strikes the perfect balance: it’s neutral enough to let the arancini flavours take centre stage while providing a satisfying crunch with every bite.
Print
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two rice arancini on a white plate, showing their filling. One with ham and cheese, the other with meat and peas ragu

Rice Arancini


  • Author: Silvana
  • Total Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Yield: 10 to 12 portions 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale

INGREDIENTS FOR ABOUT 12 ARANCINI

  • 2 sachets of saffron
  • 70 grams of butter
  • 500 grams of vialone nano rice
  • 1.2 litres of water
  • 100 grams of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 pinch of salt

FOR THE FILLING WITH MEAT SAUCE

FOR THE HAM FILLING

  • 30 grams of cooked ham in a single slice
  • 60 grams of mozzarella

FOR THE BATTER

FOR BREADING AND FRYING

  • Breadcrumbs to taste
  • Sunflower oil to taste

Instructions

1. Begin by boiling 1.2 litres of salted water. Add the rice and cook for approximately 15 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed. This will ensure that the starch remains in the pot, resulting in dry and compact rice.

2. Dissolve the saffron in a small amount of hot water and add it to the cooked rice. Stir in the butter and the grated cheese until well combined. 

3. Spread the rice evenly onto a large, shallow tray. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent the surface from drying out. Allow the rice to cool completely for a couple of hours at room temperature.

4. As the rice cools, prepare the ragù filling following this recipe, but reduce the ingredient quantities to approximately one-sixth of the original amounts.

5. Cube the caciocavallo cheese, cooked ham, and mozzarella while the ragù is cooking. Set aside..

6. Once the rice has fully cooled down, begin forming the arancini. Keep a bowl of water nearby to moisten your hands as needed. Take about 120g of rice for each meat arancino and create a small bowl shape in your hand. Fill with a teaspoon of meat sauce and a few cubes of caciocavallo cheese if using. Close the rice around the filling and shape it into a pointed form. Repeat this process for all arancini with the ragù filling.

7. For the ham and mozzarella filling, use about 130g of rice per arancini and stuff them with diced ham and mozzarella. Shape these arancini into round forms. This filling variation is traditionally known as “with butter” (al burro).

8. Prepare the batter by combining sifted flour, a pinch of salt, and water in a bowl. Mix thoroughly with a whisk to prevent lumps.

9. Dip each arancino into the batter, ensuring they are fully coated, then roll them in breadcrumbs.

10. Heat oil in a saucepan to 170°C (340°F). Deep-fry one or two arancini at a time, being careful not to lower the oil temperature. When they are golden brown, remove and place them on a tray lined with absorbent paper.

11. Serve the Sicilian rice balls hot and enjoy!

Notes

Cooked Sicilian rice balls can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Ensure they are properly covered or placed in an airtight container to maintain freshness.

If you prefer, you can prepare the rice a day ahead of time. Cover the rice with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. This can save you time on the day of cooking.

To save time and make assembling the arancini even easier, you can prepare the Sicilian ragù in advance. By having the ragù and rice prepared ahead of time, you can focus on assembling and frying the arancini when you’re ready to cook. This can make the process more efficient and enjoyable.

Sicilian rice balls can be frozen raw, provided that all the ingredients used are fresh and have not been previously defrosted. When ready to cook, you can fry them directly from frozen. In this case, it is recommended to make the arancini slightly smaller to ensure even cooking.

If you’d like to try different types of cheese in your arancini, you can substitute the caciocavallo with fresh pecorino, provola, or mozzarella, scamorza, or gruyere. 

  • Prep Time: 60 minutes
  • Rest Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Entree
  • Method: Deep Fried
  • Cuisine: Italian
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