Arancini are delicious, crispy, deep fried Sicilian balls of rice. They have a meat sauce and mozzarella cheese filling and crunchy breadcrumb coating. Similar Italian rice balls are called Supplì in Rome and the nearby region.
Arancini di Riso, or Sicilian Rice Balls (or Italian Rice Balls) are one the most delicious dishes that I have ever discovered while traveling.
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First Time in Sicily
When I was 19 years old, I spent 9 weeks traveling in Europe. I actually make myself jealous when I think about this now.
However, even though I was young, I really did appreciate everything I did and was able to see at the time. This is because I had worked very hard to pay for the trip myself. I bought my airline ticket and paid my transportation costs within Europe. However, I was lucky that I was able to stay with family everywhere I travelled.
I was in Southern Italy visiting my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for the longest part of my trip (5 weeks). While there, my Uncle Nino, Aunt Rita and cousin Marco stopped by our village to visit the family. They were driving from Scotland to their other home in Sicily. When Uncle Nino heard how long I planned to be there, he asked me if I wanted to go with them (!)
Let’s just say I didn’t have to think about my answer: I packed a small bag and was on my way to Sicily that afternoon. Never having been there before, I was absolutely elated at the thought of traveling somewhere new in Italy, especially since it was completely unplanned.
Crossing the Strait of Messina on a ferry from Reggio Calabria at dusk was magical to me: the far-off twinkling lights on the island where my grandparents had once lived, beckoned us to the shore. “La Bella Sicilia” looked so enticing in the evening, and the Mediterranean breeze made the atmosphere even more wondrous that night. I couldn’t wait to experience all that Sicily had to offer.
My aunt and uncle were the most gracious and generous hosts while I was there, and took me to several towns and interesting places. However, I did have a favorite:Taormina. To this day, it is most definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
The views were breathtaking; from the beautiful town of Taormina, to Etna off in the distance, I was in awe.
My aunt and uncle not only introduced me to their family, friends and favorite local places, but also to Sicilian food and drink. Some of which I had never tasted or heard of before (and yes, I was already a “foodie” back then). Uncle Nino knew of restaurants which were in remote homes on desolate mountainsides. I sometimes wondered how he actually found them!
Then there were restaurants by the sea.
Seafood is one of the highlights of Sicilian cuisine, and I tasted swordfish and prawns which were simply prepared, yet incredibly flavorful due to every town’s proximity to the sea on such a relatively small island.
My standards for swordfish were raised to such a high level, that I do not buy, order or eat it here in the US anymore, as it never lives up to the flavor which spoiled me all those years ago. This is definitely one of the downfalls of tasting truly outstanding food.
What are Arancini?
One of the Sicilian delights my relatives introduced me to were called “arancini,” which means “little oranges” (called “supplì”* in Rome and Lazio). They are crunchy, deep fried balls, or cones of rice which hide a center containing meat sauce, peas and mozzarella.
I often see arancini on menus in Italian restaurants here in Los Angeles, but I don’t ever remember seeing them back then (not that I was frequenting a lot of restaurants at that age). Although they are called arancini, the ones I ate in Sicily were cone-shaped, like these in this photo, and they resembled pears more than oranges.
*Suppli are very similar to arancini, except for the center filling is usually only cheese and they aren’t always round in shape.
How do you make Italian rice balls? (Arancini and Supplì)
Arancini are made by forming plain risotto into either conical, or round shapes, with mozzarella in the center. To add even more confusion, these supplì are often called “Arancini di riso al Telefono” because when you break and pull them apart, the mozzarella forms a long string, like a telephone line.
Alternatively, mozzarella, peas and tomato sauce are hidden in the middle of other types of arancini. However, all of them are dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep fried–can you just picture that? Here, I’ll help you.
These are sold as snack foods at pizza shops, bars and similar places in Sicily, and in Southern Italy and they may have “travelled” throughout Italy now. However, I never saw them anywhere in the northern part of the country when I was there last few times.
Don’t be intimidated by these delectable treats as they are quite easy to make, as long as the rice is cooked properly. I’ve seen lots of other recipes giving horrible directions that will doom the user to failure. It really saddens me, because sometimes they even use MY PHOTO with their recipe! It’s just unfair to the reader who expects to get a Gucci gown using a Butterick pattern (did I just date myself?) It’s also copyright infringement of my photo.
Don’t try to use regular rice, or boiled or steamed rice as it will not stay together when you try to form a ball or cone (I learned this the hard way). You will be rewarded for your efforts, believe me.
*NOTE: if you are able to make the risotto a few hours ahead of time, or even the day before, this will work in your favor as it can be refrigerated so that it sticks together more easily.
Arancini di Riso: Sicilian Rice Balls
makes about 12 to 16, depending on size
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups (15 oz) Arborio rice (the best rice to use is carnaroli, I use “Subscribe and Save on Amazon)
- 4 oz white wine
- approximately 30 oz chicken stock
- 1 egg
- 4 oz mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ to 3/4″ cubes
- Bolognese sauce (or use plain spaghetti sauce for vegetarian)
- cooked peas (optional)
- all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs, beaten
- more tomato sauce, to serve (optional)
- basil leaves, for garnish
Make the risotto by adding the rice to the heated oil in a large sauté pan, and stirring quickly for one or two minutes. Quickly add the white wine while stirring. With the heat on medium high, begin adding the chicken stock a little at a time, and continuously stirring, until all the stock has been used and the rice is cooked, yet still al dente.
(Here is a more detailed recipe on how to make risotto.)
Taste, adding salt if necessary. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Add an egg to the risotto and mix well, then refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.
To make the arancini~
- Place some rice in your hand and flatten it into your cupped hand, but don’t make it too thin, or the filling will ooze out.
- Place a piece of mozzarella, and/or a little tomato sauce (and peas, if using) in the center of the cupped rice.
- Next, close the rice around the filling and shape into a ball.
- If you’d like to make conical shapes, flatten the bottom of the ball, and make the top more pointed.
Now, roll the shaped arancini in flour.
Then, roll them in the beaten egg.
Finally, roll in the breadcrumbs; I like using this set of trays.
Set aside until all of the rice has been used.
Fry the Arancini
Heat some oil in a deep fryer, pot, or wok until it is very hot.
Add the arancini, and cook quickly, turning often so they don’t brown too much on one side. If serving immediately, fry for a few minutes, so the cheese will melt in the center.
(If you’d like to serve them at a later time, remove them quickly after just browning; then, just before serving, place them on a baking sheet and re-heat in the oven at 400ºF for 5 to 10 minutes.)
Remove from oil and place on paper towel lined plate or tray.
Serve plain, or place on tray with a little tomato sauce and garnish with basil. (If you’d like to serve them at a later time, remove them quickly after just browning; then, just before serving, place them on a baking sheet and re-heat in the oven at 400ºF for 5 to 10 minutes.)
You can also serve them with a little extra sauce on the side.
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Serving Size: 2
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 500 Total Fat: 17g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 0mg Carbohydrates: 70g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 21g