Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crispy + Creamy = Arancini

I first discovered arancini last year when we visited Boston (and basically ate our way through the North End). I was immediately in love (with Boston, yes, but with arancini in particular). In fact, I even ranked them #6 on my list of all-time best vacation foods!

I had never heard of arancini before I found them in Boston, and little did I know that my life was not complete. They are fried rice balls filled with ragu and they originated in Sicily. Their name comes from their shape and color ... arancia means orange in Italian. They are absolutely delicious and I might even say they're my favorite Italian food. They're crispy, creamy and saucy all at once!

Arancini were in my recipe wishlist, and given the complex and time-consuming nature of preparing both the risotto and ragu required for them, I knew they'd be a weekend project. Start to finish, dinner took me about two and a half hours to cook tonight (during the down time I was even able to squeeze in a batch of red velvet cookies!). But it was so worth it!

Sicilian Style Arancini
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/4 dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup bolognese sauce (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup dry Italian bread crumbs

To make the risotto, in a saucepan bring broth to a simmer. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until transparent, about 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is opaque and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook, stirring until absorbed. While continually stirring with a wooden spoon, begin adding the broth in 1/2-cup increments, allowing the liquid to become completely absorbed by the rice between additions. Cook until the rice is just tender and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes. Add the grated cheese, heavy cream, salt and pepper and stir to combine well. Transfer to a mixing bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

When ready to make the arancini, remove the chilled risotto from the refrigerator. Using a small scoop, divide the risotto in about 3-tablespoon sized portions. Form the portions into balls using your hands.

Press a hole into each risotto ball and stuff the center with a heaping teaspoon of the bolognese sauce. Press the opening closed and roll the ball between your hands until it is smooth. Set aside while you prepare the other arancini. Refrigerate 20 minutes to allow balls to set up before coating and drying.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Place the flour, egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. One by one, lightly dredge each risotto ball in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, so that each ball is completely coated.

Fry the balls in batches, a few at a time, turning once during cooking so that they are evenly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly before serving. Serve hot on top of remaining bolognese with a sprinkle of parmesan.

Bolognese Sauce
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup beef broth
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon frozen peas
1 cup tomato sauce

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until it is crisp and has released almost all of its fat, about 6 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are very soft and lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the ground beef and ground pork and cook, stirring to break up any clumps, until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Drain fat from pan. Add the wine, garlic, and tomato paste and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine the milk and cream in a cup. After the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, add the milk-cream mixture at even intervals over 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, the milk mixture should be completely incorporated and the sauce should be thick and creamy. Add frozen peas. Remove 1/4 cup sauce for the arancini and place in a small bowl. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Stir in tomato sauce and simmer until ready to serve.

As I told Bill after dinner, it's a good thing these were such a success because I would have been pissed off if the dinner that took me almost 3 hours to cook had been bad! Bill even said they were better than the arancini at Glorioso's, the Italian market on Brady Street. I haven't had Glorioso's arancini so I can't compare, but I can say that I came pretty close to replicating the deliciousness we had in Boston :)


  1. I've never even heard of these! But wow, do they sound like a heavenly combination! I guess they make pretty big, I was imagining little balls.

    All your Italian recipes invariably end up making me the most hungry. I bet they're the best too ;)

  2. I was actually thinking that I could also make little arancini ... they'd be cute little appetizers you could pop in your mouth! I did find several recipes that left the ragu out and were just fried balls of rice, so those would be perfect. Bill said we'd make a fortune selling these at State Fair or Summerfest. Milwaukee goes nuts for anything fried!