Italian Arancini Rice Balls Recipe (Sicilian)

Arancini, the iconic Italian rice balls recipe, are a staple of Sicilian cuisine, beloved for their crispy exterior and rich, flavorful fillings. These delightful snacks have a storied history and regional variations that make them a fascinating subject for both cooking and cultural exploration.

Deep fried arancini, ready to enjoy!

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How to Make Sicilian Italian Arancini Rice Balls Recipe

The Basics of Making Arancini

Making the Rice

The foundation of any arancini is its rice, typically a starchy variety like Arborio or Carnaroli, which is essential for achieving the creamy texture inside while maintaining a firm shape. The rice is often cooked risotto-style, infused with saffron for its signature yellow color, and mixed with butter for added richness.

Arancini rice with saffron and butter

Preparing the Filling

The fillings can vary widely, but a classic version involves a hearty ragù (meat sauce), peas, and sometimes mozzarella or caciocavallo cheese. In Sicily, each region adds its twist, such as the addition of pistachios in Bronte or eggplant in Catania versions.

Arancini filling with Ragù and Peas (you can optionally add cheese)

Shaping and Filling

Once the rice and filling are prepared, the arancini are formed by taking a portion of rice, placing the filling in the center, and molding the rice into a ball or cone shape. This process requires a delicate touch to ensure the filling is well-contained without breaking the rice shell.

In the video, Flavia Diamante tries out a “Made in Italy” (and Sicily!) tool for quickly making the perfect arancini! It really worked and this nifty little tool allowed her to crank out dozens of arancini in record time. You can find this product for making arancini on Amazon (affiliate link)!

The “Made in Italy” product called Arancinotto is the best tool for making arancini that we’ve come across! (affiliate link)
Arancinotto in action! Flavia is using this tool to make arancini quickly and easily.

Breading and Frying

The final step involves rolling the shaped arancini in breadcrumbs, then frying them until golden brown. This not only enhances their texture but also helps to seal in all the flavors.

After dipping the arancini into a batter (flour, egg, water) they are covered in breadcrumbs.

Regional Variations

Arancini reflect the culinary diversity of Italy, adapting to local tastes and ingredients. For instance:

  • Palermo: Often features butter and ham in the filling, known locally as ‘arancini al burro.’
  • Catania: Known for its conical shape, symbolizing Mount Etna, with fillings like ragù, mozzarella, and sometimes aubergines. Our arancini recipe is similar to this, with ragù and cheese.
  • Messina: Typically includes a mix of pork and beef in the ragù, and might be shaped more elongated compared to other regions​ (Siciliani creativi in cucina)​.

Deep Fry… or Air Fried Arancini?

Honestly, nothing beats deep fried arancini. They are slightly crispier and evenly golden. However, deep frying can be a stinky and messy process. Plus, the arancini will definitely absorb more oil than the air fried alternatives. 

We think the air fryer does a great job with ‘frying’ Italian foods like arancini (and similar dishes like breaded suppli). The outside will still be golden and crispy with a lot less oil. We have air fried arancini using two models of Cosori Air Fryers: the Cosori Turbo Blaze air fryer and the Cosori Dual Basket Air Fryer. Click on the links to see our full review on these models. Both models did an excellent job air frying arancini.

Be sure to use the crisper basket to allow air flow under the cooking arancini and be sure to give each arancino a generous spray of air-fryer friendly oil.

Want to air fry foods like arancini? You can find the model featured in our video recipe on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Qz6yFY
Air frying our arancini with the Cosori Dual Basket air fryer (affiliate link)
Here’s how the air fried arancini turned out! Pretty crispy 🙂

History of Sicilian Arancini

The origins of arancini date back to the Arab occupation of Sicily in the 10th century, when the island was introduced to rice and saffron. The snack was likely inspired by traditional Middle Eastern dishes that combined rice and spices. Over the centuries, various influences including French and Spanish culinary traditions have shaped the evolution of this dish, making it a melting pot of Mediterranean flavors.

Arancini not only serve as a delicious treat but also tell the story of Sicily’s rich and complex history, embodying the cultural amalgamation that defines the island’s cuisine. Whether enjoyed as a quick snack or a full meal, these rice balls continue to be a symbol of Italian culinary ingenuity and tradition.

For those interested in the detailed recipes and further exploration of regional variations, consulting specific Italian culinary sources can provide an authentic perspective on creating these delicious treats at home.



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Italian Arancini Rice Balls Recipe (Sicilian)

PIATTO RECIPES
A classic Sicilian recipe for Italian Arancini rice balls! With saffron-seasoned rice, ragù and peas and (optional) a bit of Italian cheese.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Rice Rest Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 14 arancini

Equipment

  • 1 arancini making form optional
  • 1 frying tool deep fryer, pan to fry or air fryer

Ingredients
  

Arancini Rice

  • 4 cups carnaroli rice or arborio
  • 3 ½ oz provolone cheese cubed (caciocavallo; alternative: Tuma cheese)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 2 packets saffron 2 packets = about ⅛ tsp
  • water according to package instructions

Ragù Filling

  • 10.6 oz ground beef we ask the butcher to blend some pancetta with the beef for best flavor and texture 🙂
  • 5 oz peas fresh or frozen
  • 1 medium onion minced
  • 1 medium carrot minced
  • 1 stalk celery minced
  • 7 oz tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp dry white wine
  • fine salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp olive oil to sauté the onion, carrot and celery

Batter and Breadcrumbs (Coating)

  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 ½ cups unseasoned breadcrumbs

Frying Oil or Air Fry

  • peanut for deep frying: or similar 'high heat' friendly oil
  • olive oil spray for air frying: olive oil spray – spray generously on outside of all arancini for the crispiest finish!

Instructions
 

Make the Arancini Rice

  • Combine the rice, water and saffron. Cook the rice according to package instructions.
    4 cups carnaroli rice, 2 packets saffron, water
  • When the rice is cooked, stir in the butter (off the heat).
    5 tbsp butter
  • Spread the rice on pieces of parchment paper in layers about 1" thick. Cover with another layer of parchment paper. Let the rice cool completely.
    You can prepare the rice the day before you plan to make the arancini.

Make the Arancini Filling (Ragu)

  • Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil. Over medium heat, add the minced onion, carrot and celery. Sauté until the onions are tender and translucent.
    1 medium onion, 1 medium carrot, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 stalk celery
  • Add the ground beef to the sautéed veggies and cook until browned. Add the wine to deglaze the pan.
    10.6 oz ground beef
  • Stir in the tomato paste and tomato sauce.
    1 tbsp concentrated tomato paste, 7 oz tomato puree
  • Simmer the ragù over medium heat for about 40 minutes. Add water if needed to avoid burning the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste.
    black pepper, fine salt
  • Add the peas in during the final 10 minutes to heat them and combine them with the ragù.
    5 oz peas
  • Let the ragù cool. Then add the diced cheese (optional).
    3 ½ oz provolone cheese

Shape the Arancini

  • Arancini have a few different traditional forms and sizes. We prefer to use an arancini mould ("Made in Italy" of course!) to fill and form the arancini. To do this:
  • Fill the arancini mould with the chilled rice.
  • Use the 'plunger' to create a cavity for the filling.
  • Fill the cavity with a few tablespoons of cold filling (ragù with peas and the cheese).
  • Then, top the filling with more rice and tap the top of the mould to close.
  • Take the lid off the mould, turn it over and the arancini should slide right out! It's far easier to quickly make arancini with a mould like the one we are demonstrating (Made in Sicily).

Bread the Arancini

  • Create a batter with the egg, water and flour. Create a dredging station, wich the batter and a shallow pan of breadcrumbs.
    2 whole eggs, 1 ¼ cups flour, 1 cup water
  • Coat each arancino with batter…
    4 ½ cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • …Then coat with breadcrumbs. Repeat until all of the arancini have been breaded.

Deep Fry or Air Fry the Arancini

  • Deep fry the breaded arancini using an oil with a high smoke point. Fry until golden.
    peanut
  • Or, you can air fry the arancini! You can air fry arancini frozen or thawed. Be sure to spray the crisper plate if your air fryer has one, but also give each arancino a generous spray of air-fryer friendly oil.
    olive oil spray
  • If air frying the arancini frozen, you'll want to air fry at 205°C (400°F) for about 15 minutes. Ideally, you should cook the arancini partially thawed. In this case, it will take less time for the arancini to heat through and become golden and crispy on the outside.
  • The deep fried arancini are slightly tastier, but the air fried versions are still delicious! Buon appetito!

Video

Notes

Use an Arancini Mould!
It is SO MUCH easier to use a mould to make arancini. You will be able to make dozens in an hour and each arancino will be perfect. We highly recommend the ‘Arancinotto‘ (affiliate link) we used in the video recipe. It is made in Sicily and is so easy to use and you can find it on Amazon. 
If you have an efficient system for making the arancini, it’s easy to stockpile and freeze these lovely rice balls for a quick dinner or party. 
Deep Fry… Or Air Fry?
Honestly, nothing beats deep fried arancini. They are slightly crispier and evenly golden. However, deep frying can be a stinky and messy process. Plus, the arancini will definitely absorb more oil than the air fried alternatives. 
We think the air fryer does a great job with ‘frying’ Italian foods like arancini (and similar dishes like breaded suppli). The outside will still be golden and crispy with a lot less oil. And cleanup is a breeze.
To Cheese or Not to Cheese?
Cheese is optional in arancini. Even among Sicilians, there are disagreements as to whether or not its traditional. 
Freeze?
Sure! Arancini freeze wonderfully! Obviously, you’ll want to put them in the freezer on a flat tray until they are solid. Then you can transfer them to a freezer-safe bag for more efficient storage. 
 
Keyword cheesy, meat lover
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