I still haven’t given up on this Italian kick I’ve been on lately, and I’m definitely not complaining about it because I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone and cooking new things. I’m hispanic and so I’m no stranger to rice. I could literally eat rice every single day and never get tired of it. So it’s no surprise that I’ll take any excuse to eat it in any way I can. With that being said, arancini have got to be my favorite Italian appetizer. Whenever I see it on any menu, I automatically get excited because there is nothing better than balls made of rice, stuffed with cheese, dredged and then fried until crispy. Am I right, or am I right? It’s completely out of this world. It’s like a euphoric experience. Surprisingly light, yet filling with just the right amount of decadence. I’m trying hard to sell this dish to you, but really, we all know that I don’t have to try that hard at all because look at them! They basically sell themselves.
Before we can start making arancini, we need to actually make risotto first. This is a great basic risotto recipe and so keep that in mind when you want to make risotto as a side. Sauté some diced onions in a bit of olive oil until soft and translucent.
Add in the rice and cook, stirring often until the rice is fully coated in the oil and begins to toast. Cooking the rice like this first, develops some great toasty flavor that really takes this risotto over the edge.
**Note: In order to make really great risotto, you need to use carnaroli or arborio rice. It’s just the perfect size and the right amount of starch that gives this dish that creamy texture.**
You want to bring 10 cups of slightly salted water to a boil, and then keep it simmering off to the side. Once the rice has toasted, add a ladle full of hot water to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until the water has almost completely evaporated. Repeat, adding a ladle full of water, continuing to cook and stir until all the water has been added and the rice has become tender.
Add in the butter, lemon zest, parmesan, and peas and stir until well incorporated and the butter and cheese has melted through. **Tip: You can flavor your risotto for the arancini a thousand different ways. Mushrooms would be great. Just sauté them with the onions at the beginning.**
Give the risotto a taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, adding more salt and pepper to taste. At this point the risotto is perfect for serving as a side dish to any meal. Keep that in mind when you want a perfect Italian side dish.
BUT we’re going to be making arancini so let’s get working on that! We need the risotto to cool completely before we roll it. So, transfer the risotto to a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper. Spread it out into an even layer and let cool to room temperature.
**Tip: If you’re in a rush and don’t want to wait that long, you can speed things along by placing the baking pan in the freezer for about half an hour to cool down rapidly.**
Once cool, place about 1/4-cup of the mixture onto your palm and flatten out. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center and then roll into a tight smooth ball. Place on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.
Continue shaping the arancini until all of the rice has been used up. You can shape the arancini into balls, or into cone-like cylinders. You can also make them as big or as little as you’d like depending on if you’re using them as a starter to a meal or as an appetizer at a party.
Create a dredging station. In one bowl, add the flour. Then whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, and finally combine the panko and bread crumbs in a third bowl.
**Note: I like using both the panko and plain bread crumbs because the panko is perfect of crunch and the plain bread crumbs are perfect for the color.**
Fill a heavy-bottomed pot about halfway up with oil and bring up to 350 degrees F. I like using a deep fry thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil because it really does make frying a lot easier.
Once the oil is hot, carefully drop in about 3 to 4 arancini and fry until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up any excess oil. Then transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet to prevent them from getting soggy.
**Tip: The key to deep frying anything is to not over crowd the pot because it’ll drop the temperature of the oil and then the food won’t fry evenly. Just fry it in batches.**
Serve the arancini with warmed marinara and a sprinkling of parmesan and chopped fresh parsley. You can also add a sprinkling of fresh basil, if you’d like. Of course, wine is a must as well, but when isn’t it really?
If you want to make these ahead of time and freeze them, I’d recommend dredging them and then freezing on a baking sheet. Then transfer to a freezer food storage bag and keep in there for up to 3 months. Then just fry, straight from the freezer. Just keep in mind that they’ll take a bit longer to fry since they’re frozen!
Keep this recipe in mind for two things. A) when you want a delicious Italian side dish and B) when you want an irresistible appetizer or snack. It’s really the best of both worlds and you won’t be able to get enough of it. I hope you give it a try soon!
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 10 cups lightly salted water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
- 1 medium lemon, zested
- ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
- ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 ounces Mozzarella, diced
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, whisked
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs, crushed
- ¼ cup plain bread crumbs
- vegetable oil for frying
- warmed marinara for serving
- Bring the salted water to a boil, reduce heat and keep to a simmer.
- Set a large saucepan over medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and cook until they become tender. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the rice and toast, stirring often to ensure that the rice is evenly coated in the oil, about 5 minutes. Using a large ladle, add 1 cup of hot water until the rice is just covered, stirring continuously until the water is just above the surface of the rice. Repeat the process, adding one ladle full of water at a time, continuously whisking, until all of the water has been used up and the rice is tender.
- When the risotto is al dente, stir in the cubed butter, lemon zest, parmesan and peas. Give it a stir until well incorporated, and the butter and cheese have melted. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning accordingly, adding more salt or pepper as needed. Remove from the heat and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread it out into an even layer and let cool to room temperature. You can speed things up if you place it in freezer for about 30 minutes.
- Once cooled, gran about ¼ cup of the mixture and flatten it out on your palm. Place a cube of Mozzarella in the center and then roll into a ball. Place on a baking sheet with a clean piece of parchment paper. Continue forming the rest of the arancini.
- Place the flour in a shallow dish. Then whisk the eggs in a separate shallow dish. Finally, combine the panko and plain bread crumbs in a third dish. Bread each arancini by dipping in flour, then in egg and then in bread crumbs; return to the baking sheet.
- Fill a heavy-bottomed pot about halfway with vegetable oil. Using a deep-fry thermometer, heat the oil up to 350 degrees F. Once hot, carefully drop in about 3 to 4 arancini at a time (depending on how big your pot is). Fry until deep golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and pace on a plate lined with paper towels. Then transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet to prevent them from getting soggy. Continue frying the rest of the arancini. Serve with the warmed marinara and a sprinkling of Parmesan and fresh parsley. Enjoy!