Arancini, also known as Italian rice balls, are a wonderful appetizer for any occasion. Our recipe includes saffron rice that’s rolled and stuffed with cheese and ragu, then battered and fried until golden brown. Serve alongside some marinara for dipping!
If you pop into almost any pizzeria on Long Island you’ll likely find a tray of golden fried rice balls sitting behind the counter.
These Italian rice balls, or arancini, are definitely a favorite appetizer for Italians, and Italian-Americans alike and while they’re great from a pizzeria, they’re even better when made at home.
Below you’ll find comprehensive instructions and some tips on how to tackle these arancini, and I promise, they are worth the effort!
And if you love the rice, peas, and ground beef combo, you’ll want to try our riso al forno recipe.
How to make Italian rice balls
First, make the rice
Note: making both the rice and beef a day ahead is far easier than doing everything the same day.
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Add 6 1/4 cups of low-sodium beef stock, 3 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads to a large nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add 3 cups of Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice and stir well.
- Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low, and cook the rice until the liquid has evaporated (about 20 minutes).
- Once the liquid has evaporated and the rice is al dente, remove the pan from the heat and add a 1/2 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Mix well, taste test, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, then add 2 large beaten eggs and mix until combined.
- Spread the rice onto a large baking sheet (this will help it cool more quickly) and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour in the fridge before rolling the arancini. While the rice is cooling, make the ragu using the instructions below.
Next, make the ragu
- Mince 1 small onion and dice 3 ounces of pancetta. Heat a pan to medium and cook the pancetta until most of its fat has rendered (about 7 minutes). Add the onion and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until soft.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and add a 1/2 pound of ground chuck and a 1/2 pound of ground pork. Brown the meat, then use a spoon to break it up.
- Add 3 tablespoons of tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add a 1/2 cup of dry white wine and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
- Add a 1/2 cup of frozen peas to the pan and cook until warm, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Note: the ragu will be very thick which will help with stuffing the arancini. Place the ragu into a dish and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until cooled. Both the ragu and the rice should be completely cool before starting the frying process below.
Finally, fry the arancini
- Prepare a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and fill a bowl with water to have nearby to aid in the riceball rolling. Cut a 1/4 pound of caciocavallo or mozzarella cheese into small cubes. Use a measuring cup or ice cream scoop and place a 1/2 cup of rice into the palm of your hand. Make an indentation in the center of the ball.
- Place 1-2 teaspoons of the ragu and 1-2 cubes of cheese into the indentation.
- Add a touch more rice to close up the ball. If needed, dip your hands into the water bowl. This will add some moisture which can help keep the balls together.
- Use your hands to roll it into a uniform ball, and place it onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat the process until there is no more rice.
- In a medium bowl mix together 2 large eggs, 1 1/4 cups of water, 1 1/4 cups of flour, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt until smooth. Add 2 cups of plain breadcrumbs to a shallow pan. Line a different sheet pan with parchment paper for use in step 7. Dip the rice balls into the batter, allowing the excess to drip off.
- Roll the batter-dipped ball in the breadcrumbs.
- Use your hands to compact the breadcrumbs onto the ball and shake off the excess. Place the breaded ball onto the new sheet pan and repeat the process for the remaining balls. Once the balls have all been breaded, place them into the refrigerator while you heat your oil.
- Add 3 inches worth of vegetable oil to a large, deep Dutch oven and heat the oil to 370f. Use a candy or oil thermometer to ensure accurate temperature. Note: the oil should not be filled too high since the height of the oil will increase when the arancini are added. A deep pot is the best tool to use for this job.
- Once the oil has reached 370f, use a pasta spider to gently place the arancini into the oil. Take care to not overcrowd the pot. We used a large Dutch oven and fried only 3 at a time.
- Fry the arancini until equally browned on all sides (about 4-5 minutes total), then remove them using a spider or slotted spoon. Place the balls onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Arancini can be served right away, but are also great reheated in the oven at 400f for 6-8 minutes if starting at room temperature, or 12 minutes if from the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Top tips for awesome arancini
- Rice. Similar to risotto Milanese, we used saffron and Arborio rice for our arancini. You can really use any rice you’d like for rice balls though, so use what is available to you.
- Eggs. Be sure to not skip adding the eggs. They act as a binder, similar to a meatball, and make it far easier to form the arancini and ensure they stay together.
- Time management. Making arancini is a bit involved and spreading the process across two days is a great idea. I suggest making the rice and ragu the day before you plan to fry the balls.
- Refrigerate before frying. Be sure to refrigerate the battered balls prior to frying. 15 minutes in the fridge will do the trick, but you can go longer if needed.
- Frying. When filling your pot with oil, be careful to not overfill. The oil level will rise once the rice balls are added so keep this in mind.
- Size. If you’d like to make smaller rice balls, you can do so. Simply take less rice (about 1/4 cup worth) to start out with. For this recipe, a 1/4 cup of rice will yield about 32-40 rice balls vs the 12-16 if using a 1/2 cup of rice.
A few of our favorite appetizers
In addition to arancini, these appetizers are big hits in our home and all can be served with marinara for dipping!
- Polpette di pane – meatless meatballs made with breadcrumbs.
- Fried calamari – crispy and tender calamari!
- Stromboli – pepperoni, ham, and provolone rolled in pizza dough.
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Arancini (Italian rice balls)
For the rice
- 6 1/4 cups low-sodium beef stock might not need all of it
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 3 cups Arborio rice or Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated
- 2 large eggs beaten
For the ragu
- 3 ounces pancetta diced
- 1 small onion minced
- 1/2 pound ground chuck
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- salt and pepper to taste
For making the arancini
- ragu from above
- cold saffron rice from above
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 2 cups plain breadcrumbs will most likley have some leftover
- 1/4 pound caciocavallo cheese cut into small cubes, can sub mozzarella
For the rice
- In a large nonstick saucepan, bring the stock, butter, and saffron to boil.
- Add the rice and stir well. Turn the heat to low and cover. Cook until the liquid has evaporated.
- Once the liquid has evaporated and the rice is al dente, remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese. Mix well then taste test. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool for 10 minutes before mixing in the eggs.
- Spread the rice onto a large baking sheet and let it cool for 60 minutes in the fridge before rolling the arancini. While the rice is cooling, make the ragu with the instructions below.
For the ragu
- Heat a pan to medium then add the pancetta. Cook the pancetta until most of the fat has rendered (about 7 minutes) then add the onion and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until soft.
- Turn the heat to medium-high and add the beef and pork. Brown the meat then break it up with a wooden spoon.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring frequently. Add the wine and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
- Add the peas and cook until warm. The ragu should be very thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the ragu in a dish and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until it has cooled. The ragu and rice should both be cool before frying in the process below.
Forming and frying the arancini
- Prepare a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and have a bowl of water nearby to assist with rolling the rice balls.
- Grab a 1/2 cup of rice with a measuring cup or a similar-sized ice cream scooper and place it into one hand.
- Make an indentation into the center of the ball and then add 1-2 teaspoons of the ragu and 1-2 small cubes of caciocavallo cheese. Add a touch more rice to close it up then roll it into a uniform ball. If needed, dip hands in water to add a bit of moisture which can assist in the balls staying together. Place all of the rice balls onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
- In a bowl, mix the flour, water, salt, and eggs together until smooth. Also prepare a plate with the breadcrumbs.
- Dip a rice ball into the batter then let the excess drip off before rolling in the breadcrumbs. Repeat the rolling process for all of the rice balls then place onto the parchment-lined sheet. Place the formed rice balls into the fridge while heating the oil.
- Heat a large heavy and deep Dutch oven with 3 inches of vegetable oil to 370f. Make sure to not pour the oil too high, since the height will increase when frying the arancini.
- Once the oil is at the proper temp, begin frying the arancini. Depending on the size of your pot, fry no more than 3 at a time. Fry until they are equally browned on all sides (about 4-5 minutes total). Remove the arancini with a slotted spoon or spider to a paper towel lined baking sheet. Eat right away!
- The recipe makes approximately 16-18 arancini assuming you portion with approximately a 1/2 cup of cooked rice per rice ball.
- Fresh mozzarella or block mozzarella can be substituted for the caciocavallo cheese.
- Arancini can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat on a baking tray at 400f for around 12 minutes to crisp up the balls and to melt the cheese.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.