These Arancini are such a delicious Sicilian and Italian food. They’re crispy fried rice balls stuffed with a delicious meaty mixture, so good for an appetizer or dinner.
After living in Italy for a year and a half, I was taught how to make arancini by a friend who has lived in Italy her whole life. These crispy, golden rice balls are a classic Italian appetizer or snack food, and with our comprehensive 8 step guide, we’ll explore how to make them, with essential tips to help you master this classic Italian dish.
What is Arancini? (the Italian Rice Ball Recipe)
Arancini are Italian rice balls, that are coated in bread crumbs and deep fried. They can be stuffed with a ragu (meaty tomato sauce), mozzarella or other cheese, ham and cheese, or vegetables. There are even sweet versions that are stuffed with chocolate or nutella and sprinkled with sugar.
Arancini is pronounce ah-rahn-chee-knee, and are a typical Sicilian dish. Arancini are considered little Sicilian suns, and are named after the orange “arancia” because of their shape and color.
Italian Rice Balls Ingredients
- white grain rice (or arancini rice if you can find it)
- ground beef – to make the sauce nice and meaty
- yellow onion, carrots, and green peas – to load the meat sauce with veggies. Skip any vegetables you don’t like
- tomato sauce – to make the filling for the arancini balls
- salt and pepper – to season the tomato sauce filling
- sugar – to lightly sweeten the sauce
- eggs – to coat the rice balls and get the bread crumbs to stick
- breadcrumbs – to give the arancini a nice crispy exterior
- olive oil – for sauteeing the veggies
- vegetable oil – for deep frying the balls
How to make Arancini
- Cook the Rice. First you’ll cook your rice in a large pot of water with a little salt until it is soft and it soaks up most of the water. Then set the rice aside and let it cool completely.
- Saute the vegetables. Add olive oil to a large pot and heat it up over medium high heat, then add in the onions and carrots and cook them until they are nice and tender.
- Cook the beef. Add the ground beef and cook it, crumbling it into small pieces, until it is cooked through.
- Make the meat sauce. Add tomato sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer, and cook until the sauce is thickened. We want it to be a little thick because you need to be able to mold the rice around it. Add the green peas, if desired, and heat through until those are warm. Then let the sauce cool enough to handle.
- Mis en Place. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, and measure out all the ingredients as needed to form the rice bowls.
- Assemble the rice balls. Take a small portion of cooked rice, about 1/4 cup and spread it into a flat layer in your hand. Scoop 1 to 2 TBS of the ragu meat sauce into the middle of the rice. Fold the rice around the sauce and squish it all together, make sure there is no sauce peaking through the rice anywhere.
- Coat in bread crumbs. Dip the balls into egg, covering completely. Then dip them into the breadcrumbs, rolling them around to cover them completely. Set the balls aside on a baking sheet until your ready to fry them all.
- Fry the rice balls. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot (you want to be able to fry at least 3 or 4 arancini balls at a time). Heat the oil to be 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the balls to the oil. Let them cook for a couple minutes, flipping the balls as needed to cook all the sides equally until they are golden brown. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to soak up extra grease, and enjoy.
Arancini Rice Ball Recipe Tips:
- Shape the balls. If it feels tricky to shape the ball of rice around the meat sauce, you can make a ball of rice and then use your thumb to make a hole in it. Fill the whole with more sauce, and add more rice on top. Roll it back into a ball and voila.
- Cheese balls. Instead of filling your balls with a meat sauce. You can skip making the sauce and stuff your balls with mozzarella cheese instead. Fill the balls each with 1 to 2 small cubes of mozzarella cheese. You’ll want about 3/4 to 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.
- Storage Instructions. These are a great make ahead dish! Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days. You can reheat them in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, and they should hold their shape, stay nice and crispy, and be so delicious!
- Freeze. You can also freeze arancini. Let them cool completely to room temperature, then store them in a freezer safe bag for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to enjoy them again place them on a cookie sheet and heat them up at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20-25 minutes, or until hot throughout.
What to serve with Arancini?
These delicious deep fried balls pair with pretty much any Italian dish, or can be eaten on their own.
- Fresh marinara sauce for dipping them into
- Grilled or Roasted Vegetables (asparagus, broccoli)
These arancini rice balls can be a process, but I promise they are worth the effort! Oh, one more thing, the most important word I have learned in Italian: Mangiamo – let’s eat!
Italian Arancini Rice Balls Recipe FAQs
This recipe shows you how to make a fresh batch of rice for your arancini rice balls, but alternatively you can use leftover risotto, or other leftover prepared short-grain rice. You will want about 5 cups of cooked rice.
As an appetizer. Arancini is typically served as a snack or appetizer. They are often enjoyed with a warm marinara sauce, or other dipping sauces, or with fresh lemon squeezed over the top.
As a main dish. You can also serve arancini as a main dish, paired with a light green salad or some grilled vegetables.
Deep frying arancini will give you their classic crispy, golden brown texture and will produce the best results.
You can fry the balls in less oil, and rotate them more often to give them their crispy exterior, and use less oil.
I have not tested this recipe by baking the arancini in the oven or air fryer. I recommend finding a separate recipe specific to those cooking methods.
There are a few reasons that your rice balls may have fallen apart, here are some, and tips to prevent this issue from happening again.
Shape. Make sure that the arancini balls are packed tightly and rolled into compact balls. Irregular shapes, or loose balls can result in them falling apart while frying.
Coating. Arancini need proper binding to keep the balls together. Make sure you fully coat the balls in the egg mixture and the bread crumbs before frying.
Rice Temperature. The rice you use for these rice balls should be at room temperature or slightly chilled. If the rice is too hot it can make the shaping process difficult, and it may be too mushy to form a tight ball.
Handle carefully. Be gently when putting the arancini balls into the hot oil. Dropping them in, or rough handling may cause them to break apart while cooking.
Italian Rice Balls Recipe (Arancini Recipe)
For the Rice:
- 6 cups water
- 2 ½ cups short white grain rice (Italian rice or arancini rice if you can find it)
- 1 TBS salt
For the Ragu Meat Sauce:
- 2 TBS olive oil
- ½ cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced carrot
- ½ lb ground beef
- 3 cups tomato sauce
- 1 TBS white sugar
- 1/2 TBS salt (to taste)
- 1 tsp pepper (to taste)
- 1 cup frozen green peas
For the Arancini Balls:
- 2 eggs
- 1 to 2 cups fine breadcrumbs
- 3 to 4 cups vegetable oil for frying
For the Rice:
- Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a large pot.
- Stir in rice and salt, lower the temperature slightly, cook until rice is tender and soaks up all or most of the water; about 20 minutes
- Drain the rice if needed, then spread it out on a cooking sheet to cool the rice quicker.
For the Ragu Meat Sauce:
- In a large sauce pan add the olive oil, saute the diced onions and carrots until golden and tender over medium high heat.
- Add in the ground beef, and cook it until browned.
- Add the tomato sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Simmer until thicken, about 20 to 30 minutes – the sauce needs to be thick enough to hold it's shape so you can form the rice around it.
- Add the green peas and let them simmer an additional 5 minutes until hot.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool.
For the Arancini Balls:
- In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs until completely combined
- In another small bowl, add the fine breadcrumbs
- Wet your hands in some water to prevent rice from sticking
- Take about ¼ cup of rice and spread it into a flat patty on your hands.
- Scoop about 2 TBS of ragu – tomato sauce and ground beef – into the middle of the rice.
- Move the rice around the sauce, then form it into a ball, making sure the sauce isn't coming through. – they should be about 2 inches in diameter. Place them on a cookie sheet until you're ready for the next step.
- Dip a rice ball in the egg, swirling around to cover completely.
- Dip the rice ball in the breadcrumbs and cover completely with breadcrumbs, place on another cooking sheet.
- Repeat until all the stuffed rice balls are covered with breadcrumbs
- In a wide pot, add the vegetable oil – you want to be able to fry 3 to 4 rice balls at a time.
- Once the oil is 350 degrees Fahrehneit, place 3 to 4 rice balls into the oil
- Let them fry for a minute or two, rotating as they cook, to cook all sides, until they are golden brown.
- Remove the balls using a slotted spoon or spatula and lay on paper towel to soak the excess grease.
- Continue until all arancini are fried, and enjoy warm!
This arancini recipe was first posted on August 12, 2016. The photos and blog text were updated for clarity on September 3, 2021.