A recent visit to a local Italian festival reminded me how much I loved these filled, breaded and fried rice balls, which were always served by my grandmother around the holidays. She always made a big batch and any leftovers were even better for snacks the next day. They are called “arancini”, which translates to “small orange”, which will give you a hint about the size and appearance.
Leftover cooled risotto is frequently used for these, but since I rarely have any leftover risotto, I am including the instructions for making the rice from scratch. You must use the starchy Italian type Arborio rice that is used for risotto. Other types of rice don’t have the starch needed to keep the balls intact while frying, and won’t work for this recipe.
Here, I have used the filling made from Italian sausage that was always in my grandmother’s arancini, but there are as many variations for fillings as there are Nonnas in Italy. Small cubes of mozzarella, peas, spinach or ricotta are sometimes used as fillings. I am also giving the easy tomato sauce recipe that is used in both the filling and as a dipping sauce, but you can use any marinara sauce. This makes a big batch of arancini, but they freeze very well, before or after they are fried and cooled.
Since Arancini can be served at room temperature, they are a terrific take-along for a picnic, potluck, or when rolled smaller, for appetizers. They are also an outstanding alternative for a sandwich in a packed school or work lunch.
Arancini with Italian Sausage Filling
1 lb risotto rice
5-6 cups of water
½ tsp salt
28 oz can Italian tomatoes
1 small onion finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning
1 lb bulk Italian sausage (mild or hot)
½ cup of prepared tomato sauce
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
3 cups plain seasoned breadcrumbs or panko crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying
Cook the rice in advance by placing the rice, salt and 5 cups of water in a pan, Bring to a boil, stirring every few minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring often for about 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked through, but not mushy. Depending on the brand of rice used, you may need to add additional water, but don’t make the rice too runny.
When the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked al dente, spread it on a cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature.
Make the sauce by sautéing the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the tomatoes & herbs and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.
To make the sausage filling, sauté sausage over medium heat, breaking it up as small as possible. Brown well and drain as much of the grease off as possible on paper towels. Add ½ cup of the tomato sauce and the cheese to bind the mixture. This should be a dense mixture with no liquid coming from it. Set aside to cool.
To roll the arancini, take about ¾ cup of the cooled rice in the palm of one hand, making a well in the center. If your rice is sticky, it will make things easier if you moisten your hand with a bit of water. Place 1 small scoop of sausage filling in the dent and work the rice around the filling to completely encase it in rice, forming a ball.