You are going to love these deep fried balls of goodness filled with cheese! Yes Cheese! Is it a main dish? An appetizer? Both? Pea and Bacon Arancini is gooey goodness waiting to happen.
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Remember when the Food Network used to teach you how to cook? Think hard, because it was a long time ago. Way back when Giada was still scowling about having to be on a television show, she showed me how to make arancini. And I watched. And I yearned. Oh, I wanted those deep fried balls of leftover rice with happy little nuggets of cheese in their centers. I wanted to eat them like popcorn.
Somehow, the arancini idea never happened. I sort of kept it in the back of my brain as a “someday I’ll…” item. But, eventually ideas need to become action, and the rubber needs to meet the road. That day came yesterday when I reviewed the great new cookbook, Easy Gourmet, by Stephanie Le of i am a food blog. I made and shared the recipe for pea and bacon risotto, and because I didn’t feel so great on Tuesday, I made the risotto yesterday morning. This meant that I ate some during the Photograph Taking portion of the day and had quite a bit leftover. Maybe on purpose.
In a harmonic convergence, I also had some wee mozzarella pearls in the fridge. Tiny 3-gram-each balls of mozzarella just waiting to melt into gooey, stringy goodness. A quick trip to the store for some more panko, and I was in business.
The process for making arancini is pretty straightforward. I had never made them before, and I managed it without hurting myself or others, although I did make a bit of a Mess in the kitchen. All you have to do is squish up the leftover risotto with an egg, bread crumbs (some recipes I researched didn’t call for them), Parmesan and some spices. Then, you grab a “piece” of the sticky filling, make a pocket for your cheese (I used 2 pearls per Rice Sphere, but you could use chunks of goat cheese or blue cheese or whatever kind of cheese you want), and roll it into a ball. A quick dunk in egg and a roll in some seasoned panko sees them to the deep fryer where they stay until they are deeply golden brown and delicious.
Since I made rather large spheres, I put them in the toaster oven at 325F once they came out of the fryer, just to make sure that they were hot all the way through. I served them with a pretty quick marinara and some finely shredded Parmesan, and they were every bit as good as the potential arancini I’d held in my head all these years.
I’m going to quote my dear friend Betsy from Desserts Required. “You have to make this recipe.” Seriously, you guys. Make risotto especially so you can make these guys, or just use your leftover risotto. I don’t think it even matters what kind of risotto you use, as long as it’s very sticky when you shape them. And the marinara, though simple, is incredibly flavorful. It’s very similar to the one I made after watching Fabio Viviani’s video a couple of years ago. (That one is still my go-to, by the way, so if you’d rather make that one, it won’t hurt my feelings at all.)
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For the Arancini
- approximately 2 cups of leftover risotto, cold from the fridge (I used leftover pea & bacon risotto)
- about 1/2 cup panko
- about 1/2 cup freshly grated/finely shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, (or some minced fresh herbs if you have some)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 mozzarella pearls per rice ball, or about a 1/2" square piece of your favorite cheese per rice ball
For the Breading
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup panko whisked together with a heavy pinch of salt and pepper
- Enough shortening or oil to reach a depth of 3" in a large, , heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven
For the Marinara (Makes more than strictly necessary, but you won't be sad about it at all)
- 2 Tablespoons butter, (I used grass-fed)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 small-ish sweet onion, small dice
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- several grindings of black pepper, to taste
- 2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, , San Marzano if you can find them
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, to taste
For the Arancini
- Mix together the risotto, panko, Parmesan and Italian seasoning. Don't worry if you end up mushing up the rice some. It's okay.
- Taste for seasoning, and then mix in the beaten egg and any salt/pepper you think it needs. (It might not need any).
- Divide the mixture into 8-12 equal pieces, depending on how large/small you want your arancini to be. Mine were fairly large, making balls roughly 2" in diameter.
- Flatten out a piece of your "rice dough" and place your cheese in the center. Fold the rice up and around the cheese, trying to make sure the cheese is in the center.
- Shape into balls fairly firmly. You want the rice to be compact so it doesn't fall apart in the hot oil.
- Continue until you've used up all the rice mixture.
For the Breading
- Roll each rice ball into the egg, letting excess drip off.
- Cover completely with the seasoned panko.
- Set aside so the breading can set up while you heat your oil.
- Bring your oil/shortening to 350F.
- Fry balls, 2-3 at a time, until very deeply golden brown. If you're making large ones like I made, put them in a 325F-350F oven after draining on paper towels for a couple of minutes. You want to make sure they are hot all the way through and that the cheese melts. If you make smaller ones, you should be fine putting them in a 200F oven to keep warm.
- Serve with marinara sauce of your choice.
For the Marinara Sauce
- In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the butter. Add the oil and heat until the oil ripples.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium to medium-high heat until the onions and garlic are starting to brown in spots. You're looking for a medium to deep golden brown, not unlike the color of the arancini.
- Once the aromatics have some lovely color on them, add the rest of the ingredients, all at once.
- Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce has become very thick. Stir occasionally.
- Taste once the sauce has reduced and add a bit more salt if you think it needs it.
- Carefully transfer the sauce to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency. I like mine fairly smooth, but make yours how you like it.
- Return to the pot and keep at a very low simmer until ready to serve.
- Spread a generous amount of marinara in a shallow bowl or on a plate.
- Top with however many arancini you wish to consume.
- Add a bit more sauce to the tops of the rice balls and then finish with a sprinkling of grated for finely shredded Parm.
- Take a bite, and smile really, really big. Keep eating, and enjoy!
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Make these, you guys. I promise you will not be sorry. And when you do, throwback to the days when The Food Network was more about the food and less about the folks making the food. Thank you for taking the time to read today.
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PS: I don’t have a recipe category for rice, so I’ve filed these guys under pasta meals, vegetarian (leave out the bacon and make the risotto with vegetable stock) and Appetizers, because you could make little guys on toothpicks and serve them at parties.