Arancini (stuffed rice balls) is a beloved street food in Sicily, and it was one of my favorite childhood snacks. My grandfather made them using leftover Arborio rice from risotto, but I often make a batch of rice just to satisfy my arancini cravings.
The term arancini comes from arancia, meaning “orange,” which the rice balls resemble once cooked. In Palermo where my grandfather was from, they’re commonly called arancine, but since they started appearing on American menus, you most often find them listed as arancini. While ground beef is a traditional filling, you can make a vegetarian version by substituting mushrooms or plant-based grounds (such as Impossible Foods) for the beef.
Grandpa Lorenzo’s Arancini With Marinara Sauce
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup onions, minced
2 large carrots, finely chopped
3 large whole garlic cloves, peeled and
1 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomato
¼ teaspoon dried Italian oregano
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley
6 cups water, vegetable broth, or
3 cups Arborio rice
Pinch of saffron (optional)
5 eggs, divided
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
(plus more for serving)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
8 ounces lean ground beef or plant-
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup frozen peas (thawed, rinsed, and
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 ounces low moisture mozzarella, cut
into ½-inch cubes
Vegetable oil for frying
¼ cup fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley,
For the marinara sauce: Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, cook one minute to release oils, remove, and discard. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, oregano, salt, and bay leaves.
Simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes, thinning with water if necessary. Remove bay leaves, and stir in fresh parsley before serving.
For the arancini: Bring liquid to a boil in a large saucepan. Add rice and saffron, reduce heat, cover, and cook until water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Mix in cheese. Spread on a baking sheet to cool before adding 2 eggs beaten, salt, and pepper.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add meat, mashing with a potato masher until texture is consistent with no large chunks. Cook until brown. Add marinara sauce and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
Place the flour and breadcrumbs on separate plates. In a small bowl, lightly beat the remaining 3 eggs. Moisten your hands with water. Scoop up ¼ cup of rice mixture (about the size of a golf ball) and flatten into a disk. Place ¼ to ½ teaspoon of the meat mixture in the center followed by one cube of mozzarella. Mold rice over the mixture, shaping into a ball. Roll the ball in flour, then eggs, and then breadcrumbs. Place on a wire rack to dry for at least 15 minutes. Continue to make the balls, rinsing your hands frequently to keep rice from sticking to them.
In a large skillet, add 2 inches of vegetable oil (enough to come halfway up each rice ball). When oil is shimmering, gently add arancini without crowding pan. Fry in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and transfer to a clean, dry wire rack on top of a baking sheet.
Ladle marinara sauce into serving bowls, place 2 to 3 arancini in each bowl, top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh parsley. Serve immediately.
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