Arancini

One of my favorite food memories of Italy are arancini, fried rice balls made with risotto and filled with a tomato-meat mixture. They’re from the south of Italy, and the first time I had one was in the Sicilian city of Siracusa, hot from a street stall. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — what’s not to love?

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These are typically deep-fried. I don’t do deep frying, but I tried that method once and it was delicious. This time, to cut down on fat and have the arancini all ready at once, I decided to bake them. They turned out great, and just as delicious as the fried version, in my opinion, even if it’s not the authentic way to do it. I lay out both methods below.

Arancini have their name because they look like oranges (“arancini” means “little oranges” in Italian). In Siracusa, these rice balls were shaped like cones, served in paper so they were easy to eat by hand. I was told that’s because they were an ancient votive offering at the Greek temples, and the cone shape, with its flat bottom, made them easy to leave on the steps.

The recipe requires a lot of cooking ahead of time, so make sure to plan for that. But it’s easy to put together at the end. I served these as an entree alongside vegetables and a salad, with leftover filling on the side. Serve them with a tomato sauce if you find that too plain. Enjoy!

Makes about 15

5 cups water
2 tsp. salt
2 cups risotto
6 eggs — 3 whole, 3 beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 lb. (110g) butter (one stick)
Pinch of white pepper and salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 lb. (110g) ground/minced beef or turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb. (110g) white or button mushrooms, chopped fine
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 Tbsp. white wine
1/2 cup canned peas, well drained
2 cups breadcrumbs
48 oz. (1.4 liters) vegetable oil (use only if frying the arancini)

A few hours ahead of cooking, make the risotto. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, then add the salt and the risotto. Stir well, cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until al dente.

When rice is done cooking, drain very, very well. Return to the pot and add the 3 whole eggs, cheese, butter, a pinch of salt and white pepper. Mix well and set aside to cool. Rice should stand firm; if it is too moist, it will be difficult to handle.

When you’re ready to cook, make the filling. (If baking the arancini, set the oven now to 425F/220C degrees.) Place a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and allow to warm. Add garlic and onion and cook until translucent. Add meat, salt, and pepper; break up meat and let brown. Add chopped mushrooms and mix well.

Add tomatoes, allspice, and wine. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the mixture glops together and shows no real trace of liquid. Add peas and mix.

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Now make an assembly line. Next to the rice, have the meat mixture, then the bowl with the beaten eggs, then the bowl with breadcrumbs. If baking, have two ungreased baking sheets ready. If frying, lay out some plates.

Place about 3 Tbsp. rice in the palm of your hand. Press with your thumb to make a dent, being careful not to press all the way through. Fill the dent with about a teaspoon of meat mixture.

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Cover the filling with additional rice to make a ball, then press firmly so no filling shows. (Tip: Add the additional rice in a ring around the filling, then cover the top. This helps prevent the meat mixture from spilling out.)

Dip the balls in beaten eggs, then roll in breadcrumbs. Lay the balls on either the cookie sheets, slightly spaced apart, or plates.

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If baking, put the arancini in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until just browned.

If frying, place a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium heat, then add enough oil to cover the arancini. Heat the oil and drop the arancini in the hot oil. Do not allow them to touch. Fry until golden brown, then remove and allow to drain on a paper towel. Serve hot.

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