Arancini seems like it would be the perfect name for a dessert. In Italian, the word means “little oranges,” and to look at them, these perfectly round and crisp little balls really do seem to resemble a basket filled with tangerines. But don’t be fooled because these fritters are meant to be enjoyed before the meal, not after.
A crisp exterior of seasoned breadcrumbs breaks open to reveal warm and creamy risotto around a center of melted mozzarella. It’s the Italian version of a croquette, designed to make use of leftovers in a way so delicious some might argue they’re even better than the original
Serve these hot, a few minutes out of the frying pan, or let cool to room temperature. With a glass of wine and a bowl of marinara or pureed oven roasted tomatoes for dipping, these make a perfect lunch or light dinner. Smaller Arancini also work as a lovely party appetizer. When I lived in Florence, my culinary school would usually put us students to work making dozens of these to serve at catered functions where they were always a big hit. No one needs to know they’re being served leftovers!
You can certainly make risotto just for the purpose of making Arancini, but note that the rice really needs to be cold and just a bit congealed before you can start rolling. If you’re planning on making these, make a pot of risotto the night before or early in the morning, and let cool in the fridge for at least 5 hours or overnight before starting. I actually make a point of making extra risotto just so that I will have enough for a big batch of these the day after. Risotto with peas is traditional, but I made these using a leftover Risotto Milanese from the night before. If you don’t have mozzarella, you can substitute any semi-soft cheese for the center; Fontina, gouda, or even a soft white cheddar would all make for good variations. I’ve even used squares cut from those Baby Bell rounds that come in the little red netting!
The Arancini should be eaten the day they are made, but extras can be wrapped well and frozen for several weeks. To serve, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and place the frozen rice balls on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until heated through and crisp on the outside.
Arancini di Riso
makes about 15-20 risotto balls, depending on size
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
3 cups leftover and cooled risotto, any variation (this is a great basic recipe)
2 large eggs, beaten well
2 cups breadcrumbs (plain or Italian seasoned. Panko breadcrumbs are not recommended for this recipe.)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 ounces of mozzarella or other semi-soft cheese cut into ½-inch cubes
salt & pepper for seasoning
1. Fill a heavy medium sized saucepan with oil until it reaches about 3 inches deep. Heat oil over medium heat until a deep fat thermometer reads a temperature of 350 degrees.
2. Combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan and then pour into a shallow bowl. Set next to a shallow bowl containing the beaten eggs. If your breadcrumbs aren’t seasoned, add a bit of salt and cracked pepper to the breadcrumb mixture.
3. Use a spoon to scoop up about 3 tablespoons of cold risotto and use your hands to form a ball (it might help to moisten them first before rolling). Insert one cube of cheese into the ball, pushing into the center, then roll again to make sure the rice has surrounded it on all sides. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and repeat until you have used up all the leftover risotto and cheese.
4. Once all the balls have been rolled out, working one at a time, dip the ball in the beaten egg and turn to coat entirely. Lift and allow any excess egg to drip off, then roll in the breadcrumb mixture until completely combined. Again, shake off any excess and place back on the parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the risotto balls.
5. Working in batches to keep the oil from cooling, gently add the rice balls to the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides. You may need to turn after two minutes. (This should take 4 minutes). Use a slotted spoon to remove the golden arancini to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. And season with a bit of salt (salting right after frying keeps food crisp.)
Serve hot or room temperature with a bowl of warm marinara or other favorite pasta sauce for dipping.