Every Christmas Eve my brother Tony and his wife Lisa prepare delicious Sicilian rice balls called arancini to accompany our fish dinner. I wanted to document their recipe so the next generations can continue this nice family tradition. For those who are not familiar with arancini (which means ‘little orange’ in Italian), they are stuffed balls of rice coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Arancini can be stuffed with a variety of different fillings such as peas, artichokes, asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, fish, meat, or cheese. My brother uses Danish or Swedish fontina cheese for his arancini since it melts so nicely into the rice. For my birthday this year I asked my sister-in-law if we could have an arancini-making party so we could all learn how to prepare them. The photos below are from the party. They are not difficult to make and a lot of fun to prepare as a group. The instructions are rather long, but it is really just a few steps: prepare the garlicky tomato sauce, cook the rice, form the balls while the rice is hot, then fry. The sauce can be prepared in advance but needs to be hot for mixing with the rice. Once the rice is cooked, the arancini are formed and rolled in breadcrumbs. At this point they can sit for a day before frying if necessary. They are brought to our Christmas Eve feast formed and breaded, then, when we are about ready to eat, they are fried and we eat them nice and hot with slices of crusty baguettes to dip in the sauce. Merry Christmas.
Sicilian Rice Balls (Arancini)
Garlicky Tomato Sauce
1/4-1/3 c. olive oil
6 cloves sliced or chopped garlic
4 (28 oz.) cans Hunts Tomato Sauce
4-6 fresh basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste
a bit of sugar if sauce is too acidic
In a 6-quart stockpot heat olive oil and sauté garlic until golden. Add tomato sauce, basil, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 30-45 minutes until the flavors begin to meld. Let sit while you make the rice balls. It needs to be hot when you mix it into the rice. You will have extra sauce left over.
Use Wonder-brand long grain rice for arancini ; it is sticky , yet light and fluffy and has a great texture for the rice balls because you don’t need to pack the rice (keep the rice from compacting by handling it gently).
12 c. water
6 c. Wonder-brand premium long grain enriched rice
6 Tbsp. margarine
4 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. Swedish or Danish fontina cheese, rind removed and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
2 – 3 cups Progresso Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
3/4-1 gallon canola oil for deep frying
fresh basil leaves for garnish
A little extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
In an 8-quart heavy-bottomed stockpot combine water, rice, margarine, and salt. Stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook 20 minutes until water is absorbed. Taste to make sure the rice is cooked through. It should be sticky; if rice is still a bit hard, add more water and continue cooking until rice is tender. If making a smaller batch the ratios are 1 cup rice to 1 cup water; 1 tsp. kosher salt to every cup of rice; and 1 Tbsp. margarine to every cup of rice. While the rice is cooking prepare your work space by placing the breadcrumbs in a pie plate and set out two baking sheets. Make sure your sauce is hot and ready to go. Once the rice is cooked mix into the hot rice: 1 to 1-1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce, just enough to coat the rice lightly and turn it an orange-pink tinge. You don’t want a lot of sauce. Stir to mix through but don’t over mix. If some rice is still white add a little extra sauce. Go lightly. DO NOT SCRAPE STUCK BOTTOM BITS. You don’t want crunchy bits in your arancini. Take a 1/3-cup measuring cup and spray lightly with cooking spray so the rice doesn’t stick. Gently scoop up enough rice to make a rounded heaping 1/3 cup. Gently press a hole in the middle of the rice and insert a cube of fontina cheese, then fold the rice around the cheese. Don’t add extra rice, just use what you have already scooped. Do not pack it down, just gently cover the cheese cube. You want to keep the mixture light and fluffy. Pour out the rice and cheese from the measuring cup into your hand. (Watch out because it is hot.) Work quickly to form a round ball without packing the ball tightly. Quickly roll the rice ball into the breadcrumbs and completely coat. Place rice balls on the baking sheet. Repeat until all the rice is used up, around 40 arancini. While you are forming the rice balls, heat a deep fryer or Dutch oven with 3/4-1 gallon of canola oil to 330 degrees. Deep fry 4-5 rice balls at a time for about 5 minutes until medium golden. Do not overcrowd the fryer. You want the arancini to be medium golden and slightly crunchy on the outside with the cheese melted within. If they are very lightly colored they may be greasy. Remove rice balls with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and let rice balls drain. Repeat with the remaining rice balls.
To serve: Place about 20 hot rice balls on a round serving platter that has a lip. Ladle a bit of tomato sauce over each rice ball. Chiffonade the basil and sprinkle on top of the arancini. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve while still hot. They are so good that you will be unable to eat just one.
Sauce-tinged rice with cheese
Rice balls ready for the deep fryer
Golden fried rice balls
Rice balls with sauce and basil