If you’ve ever had Italian rice balls (arancini di riso, translating to little oranges), you know how delicious they can be. Crispy, deep fried rice balls — well, not just rice: cooked risotto — often stuffed with mozzarella cheese or peas, and served with warm marinara sauce.
The key to the very best arancini is to keep them tender and moist (sorry — the m- word was necessary!) with almost a liquid-like center. When made well, they are ethereal.
Which is why we’re so excited to share this arancini recipe with you! It yields about 18 rice balls, each with a gooey, melted mozzarella center. The tender rice is loosely held together by a crunchy bread crumb topping. They’re totally divine, and one of our all time favorite appetizers and happy hour snacks.
- Short grain rice! While arborio rice is traditional for risotto, grab something even shorter if you’re able to, like sushi rice.
- Unsalted butter
- Shallot or onion, diced
- Dry white wine
- Chicken stock or broth, or vegetable broth.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese is added to fully cooked risotto.
- Fresh lemon zest, which brightens the flavors of the rice balls.
- Fresh herbs: We love to add chives. You could use thyme, oregano, basil, or parsley instead. Or add a teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning or oregano!
- Heavy cream + 1 egg yolk: These two ingredients will help prevent the risotto from seizing tightly later.
- Mozzarella: Cut a fresh ball of mozzarella into small ¼” cubes for stuffing inside the rice balls.
- Rice flour, though regular all purpose flour is fine! If you use gluten-free breadcrumbs, rice flour keeps the arancini gluten-free, which is nice.
- Traditional breadcrumbs: store-bought or fresh homemade breadcrumbs.
- A light, neutral oil for deep frying: canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil.
- Kosher salt + black pepper: For seasoning!
Equipment: a large pot for cooking the risotto, along with a spatula for stirring, a saucepan for the stock, a ladle, a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and then a pot for deep frying. We love this spider.
How To Make Arancini At Home
Making fried risotto balls at home requires time and patience, but it’s really not difficult! The quick break down is as follows:
- Make classic Italian risotto. Sweat onion or shallots in butter, toast the rice, then cook with white wine, adding chicken broth or stock slowly and stirring continuously.
- Flavor the risotto. In addition to Parmesan cheese, we like to add lemon zest and fresh herbs. Next, stir in heavy cream, an egg yolk, and an extra pat or two of butter. This helps keep the rice tender instead of seizing up into a hard ball. See additional tips below!
- Cool for 1 hour. Pour the cooked risotto onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread into an even layer.
- Form the rice balls. Take ¼ cup of cooled risotto in the palm of your hand, then place a couple cubes of fresh mozzarella in the center. Form the rice around the mozzarella cheese, trying your best to seal it tightly. Repeat with remaining risotto. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.
- Dredge the arancini. Dredge each rice ball first in the rice flour + water mixture, then into the bread crumbs.
- Fry the arancini. Deep fry in canola or vegetable oil that’s heated to 350F until golden-brown and crispy on all sides! This will take about 3-5 minutes per batch. Transfer to a wire rack lined with a paper towel, then season with Kosher salt.
We love to serve Sicilian fried rice balls with homemade marinara sauce. Homemade tomato sauce would be great too!
Expert Tips Fried Risotto Balls
- Keep the rice balls moist! To do this, stir a little heavy cream into the cooked risotto — this is neither traditional nor authentic — but it keeps the fried risotto balls moist.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan! When frying, work in batches of ~4 rice balls at a time. If you add too many at once, you’ll bring down the temperature of the oil. This results in a longer cook time and uneven browning.
- Drain the arancini on paper towels! This will absorb excess oil, yielding crispy (not greasy!) rice balls! Immediately season the fried rice balls with a sprinkle of Kosher salt.
- Re-use the oil! We keep empty 1-liter bottles on hand and strain the leftover cooking oil straight into them. To do this, allow the oil to cool completely. Next, place a fine mesh strainer on top of a funnel that is set on top of a bottle. Strain the oil inside. You can use the cooking oil at least 2 more times before discarding.
Short grain rice is best! Arborios is fine, but if you can get your hands on Originario rice or sushi rice, those are even shorter grains.
If these are part of a larger meal, we like to serve a simple arugula salad and then go straight into the pasta course.
We love Rao’s marinara sauce, but any red sauce will do. You can also enjoy these plain. They’re delicious no matter what!
Yes, you can prepare and refrigerate the arancini overnight, then cook when ready. You can also fry them and store in a fridge for up to 3 days, then reheat in an oven at 400F for about 10-12 minutes.
Yes, they freeze and reheat well. Allow cooked arancini to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to a Ziplock bag. Freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat in a preheated oven to 375F for 15-20 minutes.
No, you can skip this! If you’re going to add cheese, we prefer the texture of cubed mozzarella to shredded mozzarella. It melts better!
Yes! We find it helps to stir in a few tablespoons of heavy cream and an egg yolk to the cooked risotto filling to give it a looser, creamier texture.
These arancini are so creamy and tender! You will love the bright, zesty lemon flavor, but the melted mozzarella center and the crunchy breadcrumb coating just cannot be beat!
If you make these Italian Rice Balls at home, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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More snacks to try at home!
How To Make Italian Rice Balls (Sicilian Arancini)
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter divided
- ½ small sweet onion peeled and diced
- 1 cup sushi rice or other small grain rice, such as Arborio
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ⅓ cup Parmesan grated, plus more for serving
- 1 lemon zested
- 2 Tbsp chives thinly sliced
- ½ tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning cooked arancini
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Stuffed Rice Balls:
- 3 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 large egg yolk room temperature
- 4-6 oz fresh mozzarella cut into ¼" cubes
- ¼ cup rice flour
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
Frying and Serving:
- Neutral oil for frying, such as canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil
- Marinara sauce for serving
- Warm the broth. Place 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock in a sauce pan, then bring to a simmer until needed.
- Make the risotto. Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion, then sweat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften. Add 1 cup of uncooked rice, then cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.
- Add liquid a little at a time. Pour in ½ cup white wine, then allow to cook for 1-2 minutes until most of it has evaporated. Begin adding warm stock 1-2 ladlefuls at a time, stirring constantly. After a couple minutes, most of the stock should have been absorbed by the rice. Repeat, adding more stock and stirring continuously, until the rice is creamy, yet tender, about 20 minutes total. Variation in cook time may be due to the size of your pan or the temperature. You want the rice to be al dente with just the slightest bite. The risotto should move freely around the pan and be more soupy than dry.
- Flavor the risotto. Stir in ⅓ cup of grated Parmesan, zest of 1 lemon, 2 Tbsp sliced chives, ½ tsp Kosher salt, and ¼ tsp black pepper. Next, add 3 Tbsp heavy cream and 1 egg yolk, then stir well.
- Cool for 1 hour. Pour the cooked risotto onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread into an even layer. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes.
- Form the rice balls. Take ~3 Tbsp (or slightly less than ¼ cup) of cooled risotto in the palm of your hand, then place 2 small cubes of fresh mozzarella in the center. Form the rice around the mozzarella cheese, trying your best to seal it tightly. Repeat with remaining risotto. This can be done up to 3 days in advance. If the rice balls seem too loose to move onto the next step, refrigerate or freeze for 10 minutes.
- Dredge the arancini. Combine ¼ cup rice flour and ½ cup of water in a medium bowl, then whisk well. Place 1 cup of breadcrumbs in a separate bowl. Dredge each rice ball first in the rice flour + water mixture, making sure the ball is completely coated on all sides, then into the breadcrumbs. Shake off any excess, then refrigerate or freeze for at least 10 minutes.
- Fry the arancini. Heat enough canola or vegetable oil in a sauce pan to go up about 3 inches. Turn the temperature to medium-high. Begin frying when the oil reaches 350F. Carefully place 3 or 4 rice balls in the hot oil (using a spider to submerge them), then fry until golden-brown and crispy on all sides, about ~3-5 minutes per batch. Immediately transfer to a wire rack lined with a paper towel, then season with a pinch of Kosher salt. Repeat until all arancini are cooked. Serve immediately with marinara sauce on the side.
- Nutrition facts do not include marinara sauce.
- Make ahead: Prepare and refrigerate the arancini overnight, then cook when ready. Alternatively, you can also fry them and store in a fridge for up to 3 days, then reheat in an oven at 375F for about 12-15 minutes.
- To freeze: Allow cooked arancini to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to a Ziplock bag. Freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat in a preheated oven to 375F for 15-20 minutes.
- We’ve found that smaller arancini work best. When you use ¼ cup or more of rice, the mozzarella doesn’t have time to melt before the outside finishes cooking. Try to use about 3 Tbsp of risotto for the rice balls.