Most Italians in America have grown up eating Arancini; rice balls traditionally stuffed with cheese, meat, peas, and mushrooms (I once had an Arancini stuffed with eggplant south of Rome). If you’re not a traditionalist the possibilities are endless, just don’t put a purple gum drop inside.
Originated in Sicily, these rice balls are breaded and fried and are served with tomato sauce. Some rice balls are as big as tennis balls, others are small like eggs, others are tiny like the red rubber balls I use to bounce off my sister’s head when I was boy. I say, the bigger the balls, the better.
Let’s face it, you would have to be a lunatic not to enjoy cutting into a deep fried rice ball and having cheese slowly ooze out of it. They are absolutely delicious and you can be as creative as you like, adding all kinds of tasty things to flavor the rice and put inside the ball’s center. I had once had an Arancini in which the rice was made with lobster broth and stuffed inside were bits of lobster meat. It was served in a puddle of creamy lobster sauce. The briny, creamy Arancini was divine, to say the least, and reminiscent of a Croquette (also popular in Italy and similar to Arancini, but shaped differently and instead of rice potatoes are used). A few weeks ago I used chopped Arugula and added it to my hot risotto, I cooled it down and when I formed the balls I put in the center small pieces of Brie. The results were amazing.
We never made Arancini in my family, and I had them only a few times as adult (which is odd considering I am a die-hard foodie). When I was in Italy they were everywhere, and I got well-acquainted with them on a daily basis. In fact, in Italy the Arancini is as popular as the USA Italian-American Meatball. They were sold everywhere, from the walk-in pizza place to the highfalutin restaurant, whereas the meatball was obscure in Italy, which is another story for another blog on how much Italian-American food is in many, many ways different than the food I experienced in Italy.
The following is a basic recipe. I suggest you have fun and add all kinds of things to your rice, but make sure whatever you use mince it finely and use a flavorful broth when making the rice. Remember to be creative when thinking of things to put in the center –cheese is always the best bet.
You can make rice balls with leftover risotto or rice, however the rice has to be sticky and clump together easily and the rice has to be cold because it makes the rice stick together better.
This is how to do it:
Stir two eggs into about two cups of cooked, chilled risotto, about ½ cup Parmesan, and a about ¼ cup bread crumbs. Mix well. Form balls. If they are not sticking together add more risotto or bread crumbs. Make the balls whatever size you like, but make them all consistent in size. Insert 1 cube of mozzarella into the center of each ball and re-form. Roll the balls first into flour, then into an egg and milk wash, then roll them into bread crumbs to coat them evenly.
I suggest when the rice balls are all formed and breaded, place them in the refrigerator for a half-hour. This will help them set.
Pour 3-4 inches of oil in a pan and heat over medium heat to 350 degrees.
Cook the rice balls until brown and heated throughout, turning them carefully with a slotted spoon every few minutes. Be careful not to break them! Place the rice balls on a paper towel to drain. Let them rest a bit before serving, or if not serving right away, you can put them on a sheet pan and heat.
Let me know how you make out and have a ball.