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Deliciously crispy and golden outside, soft and creamy inside with a core of molten mozzarella, these Italian rice balls or “arancini di riso” are sure to please a crowd!
They’re also easy to make ahead and to customize with your favorite add-ins.
Today I’m sharing one of the most popular Italian recipes: arancini. This sensational Italian street food made with sticky risotto balls filled with gooey mozzarella and fried until crisp is SO hard to resist!
Traditionally, these scrumptious rice balls are staples of Sicilian cuisine and the most common fillings include beef ragù and peas or mozzarella and prosciutto (ham), as well as many vegetarian options.
My mum, who was from Sicily, used to make them with saffron-infused rice, mozzarella and provola cheese, and these little rice balls with mozzarella are inspired by her incredible recipe.
And I absolutely love them because are versatile, economical (well, apart from the saffron!), perfect for sharing, and if you make them a bit smaller, you can serve them as a terrific Italian appetizer.
Added bonus? You can use up leftover risotto, you can customize the filling with your favorite ingredients, you can make them 100% vegan or vegetarian if you wish, and they are freezable too!
List of the ingredients
- Risotto rice
- Vegetable broth
- Parmesan cheese
- Saffron (optional)
- Mozzarella cheese
- Flour & water
- Vegetable oil
- Salt & pepper
How to make Italian rice balls (arancini)
(Note: this is a quick description, the full recipe is at the bottom of the page)
- To make the rice, you can either start with a classic risotto method or you can simply cook the rice in broth. Both methods work.
- Spread the risotto onto a large baking tray and set aside.
- Make the arancini coating by whisking water and flour.
- Divide the cold risotto into 10 pieces and flatten each piece in damp hands.
- Cup the mixture, fill the centre with mozzarella, and shape into a ball.
- Coat the rice balls in the flour mixture then roll to coat with breadcrumbs.
- Deep fry the arancini in batches for 3 minutes at a time.
- Drain them on the kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little salt.
- They are best served hot and freshly fried, but they’re still good warm so that the juicy melted mozzarella cheese stretches from our hands to your mouth in thin delicious strands. YUMMY! : )
Before we go to the recipe below, here a few notes about the ingredients and substitutions.
Ingredients for Italian rice balls
Rice: risotto rice such as carnaroli, vialone, arborio rice is perfect for the recipe, also short-grain sushi rice would work. But don’t use long-grain rice such as basmati. You need a sticky rice mixture here.
Butter: in this easy arancini recipe the butter is used at the end to make the rice creamy and flavorful.
Parmesan: it adds plenty of flavor and makes the rice richer.
Broth: for more flavor.
Saffron: the classic arancini recipe uses saffron which lends flavor and a color making them to look like “little oranges” (that’s why are called “arancini” or “arancine” in Italian). However, saffron is an expensive spice and I’m using here for the sake of tradition, but you’re welcome to skip it. ; )
Mozzarella: use fresh mozzarella in water for this recipe or baby mozzarella such as ciliegine.
Flour: mixed with water, all-purpose flour makes the perfect coating for arancini, and no beaten egg required!
Bread crumbs: fine breadcrumbs works better than panko crumbs and makes a nice and smooth crispy outside.
Salt & pepper: taste and make sure you adjust the seasoning to your taste, the rice should be flavorful, not bland.
Frequent Asked Questions
Can I use leftover risotto for arancini?
Yes, you can use up your leftover risotto for these Italian rice balls, or you can make risotto from scratch by sautéing diced onion in olive oil followed by a dash of white wine and broth. However, to simplify the recipe, I cook the rice in vegetable broth.
How to customize these Italian rice balls?
Once you’ve made risotto, you stir in chopped parsley, basil or your favorite herbs, and you can fill the centre of your rice balls with extra ingredients that pairs beautifully with mozzarella. You might try cooked peas, sautéed spinach, sun dried tomato pesto or paste, arugula pesto, gorgonzola, or diced ham, ground beef ragu’, or salami if you go for the meat option.
How to make them vegan?
To make vegan rice balls, skip butter and use vegan parmesan and vegan mozzarella instead.
Can I make Italian arancini ahead of time?
Yes, once these Italian rice balls are coated in breadcrumbs, they keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days and they’re freezable too. But for best result, I suggest you to deep fry your rice balls just before serving. Hot, crispy and delicious are best!
How to store arancini leftovers?
if you’ve already fried them, no problem, they keep well in the fridge for up to 2-3 days and they’re freezable as well. To serve them, preheat the oven to 180C/350F, and bake them for 10-12 minutes. If the rice balls are frozen, make sure you thaw them first.
Can I bake them?
Yes, if you want to cut back the oil you can place the arancini on a baking sheet, spray with olive oil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until crisp and golden (at 200C/390F). However, I’m not going to lie to you: the oven dries out and baked arancini have different texture, less soft and less moist than fried arancini.
Looking for more classic Italian appetizers?
I’ve got you covered with this incredible collection of Italian appetizer recipes perfect for any occasion. Below a few of my favorites!
- Sun dried tomato paste
- Caprese skewers
- Focaccia with tomatoes
- Easy Italian focaccia
- Italian breadsticks
- Bruschetta with mozzarella
- Italian spicy olives
- Marinated mozzarella balls
If you make these Italian rice balls, or you have a question, let me know by leaving a comment. I would love to hear from you and get your feedback! x
Italian Rice balls (Arancini)
- 2 ¼ cup (540 ml) low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon fine salt, or more to taste
- 1 cup (200 grams) Italian risotto rice (Arborio, carnaroli…)
- 1 pinch saffron strands (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, or more to taste
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- ½ (60-70 grams) mozzarella ball in water, diced
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 ½ cup fine breadcrumbs
- 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Cook the rice
- If you use saffron, place the strands in a glass with 2 Tablespoons of warm water. Let them soak.
- In a large pot bring the broth to the boil, add the salt and the rice. Reduce to medium heat and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the saffron and the coloured water, and keep cooking for a further 5 minutes or until cooked. Add a touch extra liquid if needed. Keep stirring.
- Turn the heat off, stir in the butter and the parmesan cheese, add freshly ground black pepper, taste and make sure you're happy with the seasoning.
- Then scrape the cooked rice onto a large baking tray, spread it in a thin even layer and set aside for at least 1 hour or until cold. Once it's cold enough, you can also transfer it into a bowl and place it in the fridge if you plan to use it later or the day after.
- Cut the mozzarella into 10 dices, and pat dry them with kitchen paper.
Shape the rice balls
- Once the risotto has cooled completely, divide the mixture into 10 pieces and flatten each piece in damp hands. Cup the mixture in the palm of your hand and fill the centre with a piece of mozzarella. Shape into a ball by bringing the sides up and sealing at the top. Shaping is much easier with clean, damp hands, so make sure to wash them often.
- Repeat with the remaining mixture and place the rice balls onto a tray.
- Whisk water, flour and salt in a bowl until smooth and place the breadcrumbs onto a plate.
- Coat the balls in flour mixture then in the breadcrumbs. Space them out on a large baking tray. Repeat until all the arancini are coated.
- Heat about 2 cups/480 ml of vegetable oil in a heavy based pan to 170°C – if you don’t have a thermometer, test the temperature by dropping in a small cube of bread, if the oil is hot enough, the bread should brown in around 30 seconds. Fry the arancini in batches for 2-3 minutes at a time or until nicely golden-brown, making sure they are not crowded in the pan and there's enough oil to cover them. Once done, lift them with a slotted spoon and place them to drain on the kitchen towel or paper. Sprinkle with a little salt while still hot.
- Enjoy them freshly fried and still warm.
Once these Italian rice balls are coated in breadcrumbs, they keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days and they’re freezable too. But for best result, I suggest you to deep fried your rice balls just before serving How to store arancini leftovers?
If you’ve already fried them, they keep well in the fridge for up to 2-3 days in airtihght container and they’re freezable as well. To serve them, preheat the oven to 180C/350F, and bake them for 10-12 minutes. If the rice balls are frozen, make sure you thaw them first.