Arancini are a scrumptious Sicilian snack prepared by rolling cooked rice around a delicious filling, then breading and frying these rice balls until delectably crispy and golden. My arancini recipe features a filling of mozzarella cheese for an extra gooey center, with spinach and sun-dried tomato for added flavor and color!
Risotto Becomes Arancini, a Delicious Sicilian Snack
Whenever I think of risotto, that slow-cooked, gloriously creamy Italian arborio rice dish, the phrase “patience is a virtue” comes to mind.
Wonderfully cozy, risotto does require a little bit of extra time and care, but the finished dish tastes like love in a bowl, and the list of add-ins and finishing touches is endless.
One of the really neat and interesting things about risotto is that once it is cooled and firmed, it can actually be turned into yet another creative presentation, one where spoonfuls of it are rolled into balls around a tiny piece of fresh, creamy mozzarella cheese.
Once breaded and lightly fried, these delectable morsels are known as “arancini”, a mouthwatering, Sicilian-style snack (or appetizer) perfect to pass around and serve just as they are, or with some marinara sauce for dipping.
My arancini recipe features a little extra color, flavor and texture, as I add some baby spinach and sun-dried tomatoes to the finished risotto. Then, once cooled, this flavorful risotto is rolled around a little piece of mozzarella cheese before being breaded and fried.
The result is arancini balls with a golden and crispy exterior plus an ooey-gooey and deliciously colorful center—the perfect two-bite snack!
How to Make Arancini Rice Balls
I happen to really enjoy the entire process of preparing arancini...
Yes, it is a bit on the time consuming side, but there's something so very therapeutic about stirring the risotto until soft and creamy, then allowing it to cool and firm, then finally rolling portions of it into a ball shape around the mozzarella filling.
One truly cannot rush the process, and the I find the pace and rhythm of preparing a recipe such as this a real treat when I long to get “lost” in working in my kitchen.
Arborio rice is the best option for this recipe, as it is naturally higher in starch which helps to make rolling the rice balls around the filling a bit easier, keeping them more stable for the breading and frying process as well.
Here's a glance at my arancini recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- I begin by preparing my risotto, stirring and adding hot stock until the arborio rice has become tender and creamy; I finish the risotto with my spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, then spread it onto a baking sheet and allow it to cool and firm.
- To make my arancini balls, I scoop 1 ½ tablespoon-sized portions of the cooled risotto, and press a small piece of mozzarella into the center of each portion, then roll the rice around it into a ball shape, about the size of a meatball.
- Once all the arancini are formed, I heat some oil in a large pan or medium pot until hot; and while the oil heats, I dip each ball into flour, then egg, then panko breadcrumbs, and hold these on a baking sheet.
- When ready to fry, I add a small batch of breaded arancini into the hot oil and allow them to become crispy and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes, then drain on a wire rack.
- To serve the arancini, I place onto a platter and serve with toothpicks for convenient pick-up, either plain or with a half portion of my recipe for warm, homemade marinara on the side.
Arancini with Mozzarella
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: 25 arancini
Nutrition Info: 141 calories (per 3 arancini)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 1 cup arborio rice
- Black pepper
- ½ cup white wine (I like Pinot Grigio for this)
- 3 ½ cups hot chicken stock
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 (heaping) cup baby spinach leaves, chopped
- ¼ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes (if in oil, pat them dry)
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, patted dry of liquid, and diced into tiny, ½” cubes
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- Peanut oil or vegetable oil, for frying
- Marinara Sauce, for dipping (optional)
- To prepare the risotto, place a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat, and add in the butter; once melted, add in the diced onion and saute for a few minutes just until softened; add in the garlic and stir.
- Add in the arborio rice, plus a small pinch of salt and pepper, and stir to combine and toast; add in the white wine, and allow it to reduce for a moment.
- Once reduced, begin adding about a ladle and a half of the hot chicken stock into the rice in increments, stirring for a moment to incorporate, allowing the stock to absorb.
- Add more stock once the stock is almost completely absorbed, stirring the risotto occasionally to create a creamy texture, using up all the stock until the rice is soft yet still has a slight bite to it (this should take about 25-30 minutes).
- Once the risotto is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, the chopped baby spinach leaves and sun-dried tomatoes, plus the parsley (and optional pinch of red pepper flakes).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the risotto onto the parchment, smoothing and spreading it to cool quickly (I place mine into the fridge for about 20-30 minutes to cool quicker).
- Once the risotto is cooled, using a 1 ½ tablespoon-size scoop (I use my cookie scoop), scoop out portions (you should get 25); then, press a tiny cube of mozzarella into the center of each, enclosing it in the risotto; roll each, like a meatball, into a ball-shape.
- Dip each ball into the flour, then the whisked egg, then the panko breadcrumbs.
- Fill a large pan or a medium pot with about 3” of vegetable oil, or enough so that the bites can be fairly submerged when fried, and slowly bring to 365°; once the oil is hot, add a batch of arancini in and fry until golden-brown on all sides, about 2 minutes; drain on a wire rack, and repeat until all arancini balls are fried.
- Serve warm or room temp with a little toothpick for convenience, on their own or with marinara sauce on the side.
To serve your arancini with some of my homemade marinara sauce, simply prepare a half recipe of it—you'll have plenty for dipping!
Tips & Tidbits for my Arancini with Mozzarella:
- Arborio rice is best for arancini: There really is no substitute for the arborio rice, as it is very starchy, which makes for creamy risotto, and this helps the arancini to stay intact.
- Chill your risotto: I find the best method to quickly cool the risotto down is to pour and spread it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, then put it the fridge for about 20-30 minutes—it helps make the rice a better consistency for rolling into balls.
- Make arancini ahead: Arancini balls are actually ideal to make ahead. Simply prepare the risotto and then let it cool; then, scoop it into 1 ½ tablespoon-sized portions and shape around a small piece of mozzarella to make a small ball. Finally, bread and set the arancini balls onto a small tray or baking sheet, wrap it in plastic, and place into the fridge until you're ready to fry them up and serve.
- Fresh baby spinach: I recommend using fresh baby spinach leaves rather than frozen, as you don't want the extra water. When you add in the chopped fresh spinach at the end of making your risotto, it will just simply wilt into the warm risotto.
- Substitute regular breadcrumbs for the panko: Panko is nice and crispy for this recipe, but you can certainly use traditional breadcrumbs, seasoned or plain.
- Marinara sauce, optional side: If you'd like to have a dipping sauce with the arancini, warm marinara is terrific. I use my homemade marinara sauce (half the amount yielded in the recipe is enough), but good quality store-bought is fine as well.
- Gluten-free arancini: Gluten-free breadcrumbs such as “Udi's” brand are terrific if you're looking to prepare gluten-free arancini. Also, substitute cornstarch or rice flour for the all-purpose flour.
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2017, and has been updated with even more love!