Rice Balls Arancini Recipe
One of my favorite dishes at a local trattoria in New Jersey is an appetizer consisting of potato croquets, mozzarella in Carrozza (mozzarella sticks), calzoncini (friend pockets of dough), and arancini (rice balls). All of the items in the dish, officially called frittura Napoletana, are expertly fried and generally well executed. However, it’s the arancini that stand out and remind me of the fried treats I consumed on the Violet coast (in Bagnara Calabra) as a child (usually from street vendors or small pizzerias) during my summer vacations.
Arancini are traditionally prepared with Arborio rice, tomato sauce with ground beef or pork, peas, and mozzarella (or another local cheese that melts well), coated with an egg wash, breaded, and finally deep fried until golden and the cheese is melted (click here for our arancini photos). The arancini of my youth were especially delicious after a day spent swimming in the Mediterranean with my cousins Vice, Maria, and Giuseppe. And while the grown ups scolded us for consuming “vile”, and fried, street food I wondered how they could compare melted cheese and creamy Arborio rice to the swordfish and roasted goat dishes they would later have for dinner (I later learned to love both swordfish and goat, of course!).
Enjoy the rice balls right out of the fryer (you need to consume this product right away). You can reheat rice balls but they often become dry.
- 2 cups of plain arborio based risotto (there’s no substitute for arborio rice; well, actually, there are plenty of variations including: Baldo, Carnaroli, Padano, Roma, and Vialone Nano)
- 3 cups tomato sauce with ground beef or pork
- 1 cup of peas
- 2 ounces of cubed mozzarella
- 1 ½ cups of plain breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs
- salt, pepper, dried oregano to taste
- ½ cup of finely chopped parsley
- vegetable oil for frying
- Make plain risotto and proceed to scoop out a healthy amount into the palm of our hand (you’re looking for baseball size arancini; note they don’t need to be perfect spheres, in fact, I’m used to seeing arancini with a more oblong shape versus something perfectly round).
- Make sure to wet your hands with some fresh water prior to handling the rice (this will prevent the rice from sticking). Make an indentation in the middle of the rice and proceed to fill the ball with a little tomato sauce, 3-4 cubes of mozzarella, and peas.
- Next, close the rice around the filling and seal the ball by shaping the rice into a ball.
- Beat a few eggs and season them with a bit of salt and pepper. Next dip the rice ball into the egg mixture and then in a bit of flour.
- Thereafter, dip the ball back into the egg mixture and then into fine breadcrumbs (buy fresh breadcrumbs from a local shop that are not seasoned; you can season your own breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, oregano, and finely chopped parsley).
- Begin heating your vegetable oil in a large pot (no need to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as Mario Batali used to do on his FoodTV cooking show, as it’s a royal waste of money). The ideal frying temperature is between 350 and 375 degrees. You can invest in a thermometer like this, but after several frying sessions you’ll get a sense of when your oil is ready.
- Gently place the balls in the hot oil and fry for about 4 to 4.5 minutes (depending on the size of the ball itself).
- You’re looking for a golden exterior appearance but ultimately you want the mozzarella to melt well and achieve “gooey” consistency; I’ve had very bad rice balls in the US that appear golden and perfectly cooked only to have barely melted cheese in the ball center)