Arancini di Riso is better known in English as rice balls. They are made with short-grain Arborio Rice. This special Italian rice is mostly cultivated in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. I’m sure you’ve eaten arancini or at least saw them at local Italian-American feats where you live. In New York City’s, Little Italy where I was a partner in a restaurant, these rice balls were a staple on our menu. Rice Balls were one of the best selling items any time of the year. Yet when the Feast of San Gennaro came in September we couldn’t make them fast enough!
The recipe below is delicious. A friend that was a chef in Bologna, Italy shared it with me. Bologna has been nicknamed by Italians as “la grassa” or “the fat” in English. The reason being is that Bologna is a city with a very rich culinary history and these delicious rice balls would be one of them.
Arancini di Riso | Italian Rice Balls
- 3 cups, Arborio Rice
- 2 teaspoons, thyme
- 7 cups chicken stock – 7 cups ( have about a quart ready in case more is needed)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
- 300 grams, butter (unsalted)
- 2 cups, white wine
- 2 large pinches, saffron threads (powder is okay, too – 2 teaspoons.)
- 1-1/2 cups, finely grated Parmesan Cheese
- 300 grams, Fontina cheese (medium cubed)
- 1- 1/2, cups, peas (fresh or frozen)
- flour, enough to coat all the rice balls
- egg wash, enough to coat the rice balls
- 4 cups, bread crumbs (plain only)
- Canola oil, for frying
- Soak the saffron threads or powder in the wine.
- Bring the stock to a gentle boil.
- Melt the butter lightly in the pan over medium heat.
- Add onion and garlic, cook slowly for 5-7 minutes until translucent (no color)
- After 5-7 minutes add the rice to the pan and stir in well.
- Lower the flame on the stove and heat the rice gently
Tip – Be careful not to burn the rice, stir well and often until the rice is warm to the touch in all areas of the pan.
- Add the thyme and stir in well to release its perfume.
- Add the white wine all at once.
- Cookout the wine well! ( until almost completely evaporated )
- Add the hot stock, one ladle at a time, constantly string to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pan using the standard risotto making methods.
Tip – It is important to only add more stock after the precious about is almost totally absorbed. Stirring constantly is also important. This is what will help to create its creamy texture.
- Keep adding the stock and stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed. When the rice is a little harder than “al dente” remove it from the heat. This should take approximately 20 minutes.
- Off the heat stir in the Parmesan cheese and butter. Incorporate it well and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.
- Now gently stir in the peas. The heat from the risotto will cook or defrost them.
- Pour the rice on and thin sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
- Once cooled, the rice mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Tip – Use a wooden spoon when stirring your risotto. Metal spoons tend to break up the rice.
Shaping & Baking
- Remove risotto from the fridge, bring to room temperature (working with rice at room temperature prevents the partially-cooked rice from breaking into tiny pieces while working with it.)
- Take about 3 tablespoons of rice and roll it to form a ball in your hands.
- Now, press a hole in the center of the ball and place a piece of Fontina cheese inside. Then close up re-forming the ball.
- Place the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in three separate bowls. You can add a little salt and pepper to the flour to season it. If you do I suggest sifting it to make sure all the seasoning is dispursed equally.
- Proceed, using a standard breading procedure to coat the arancini.
- Add the Canola oil to a pan or to the pot you will fry in. (do not fry in olive oil)
Tip – Olive oil has a lower smoke point at high temperatures and this changes its taste.
- Heat the oil to about 350°F – 360°F.
Tip – You can test this if you do not have a kitchen thermometer by cutting a cube of white bread or potato. If it turns golden brown within about a minute you can begin frying. Rember the rice balls must get hot all the way through. Therefore a gradual crisping up of the outside is better. This way the inside of your arancini will get hot and the delicious Fontina cheese will melt too.
- Serve with a fresh Pomodoro (tomato sauce)
- At the restaurant, we also decorate the place with a little pesto.
- Serve immediately while still hot!
1) Do not overcook the rice by any means. The first cooking of the Arborio rice should be a little harder than al dente. This will ensure that when you fry them in order to heat and crisp them up, the rice will still have a bite to it.
2) Arancini can freeze well once breaded and not yet cooked. Place them on a parchment-lined tray in a single layer tightly rapped. They last for up to a month like this.