If you’ve never tried or even heard of arancini, you need to rectify that situation. A glorious ball of flavourful rice with a filling of meat and or cheese, that is breaded and fried and fully credited to the Sicilians. Arancini means little oranges which no doubt come from their golden colour outside and the traditional use of saffron in the rice itself that would give it the lightest orange hue. If you have a great Italian bakery or deli in your neighbourhood you can usually find baseball sized variations filled with meat sauce, peas and that gooey cheesy middle or just cheese and sauce. I haven’t met any arancini I didn’t love at first bite and I started making my own smaller and cocktail party appropriate sized versions a few years ago. You must use Italian style or Arborio rice. It won’t work with regular rice as you need the sticky starchiness. I’m sure that traditionalists would also use a deep fryer, but they work perfectly in the frying pan and finished off in the oven. This is a very adaptable recipe with infinite variations but the mushrooms are perfect for this time of year. These are often served with a side marinara sauce. Feel free to do that , but they are great on their own.
4 cup dry mushrooms (any variety)
2 cups Arborio rice
4 cups mushroom broth*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp salted butter
1/2 cup mozzarella, provolone or fontina cheese cubed very small
11/2 cups seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
2 eggs lightly beaten
Oil for frying (About 2/3 cup)
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over dried mushrooms and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Strain and rinse the mushrooms reserving the soaking liquid (optional) . If you you find the liquid is very gritty then strain it again through a fine sieve or discard. Chop mushrooms finely and set aside.
Follow package directions for the rice using broth (including liquid from soaked mushrooms) instead of water and the chopped soaked mushrooms.
Once rice is cooked ( it will be sticky) add in butter and Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Transfer mixture to a bowl or pan let cool then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Set yourself up a station to form, stuff and bread the rice balls.
Mix breadcrumbs together.
I make them a bit bigger than a golf ball. Make your life easy and keep a small bowl of water nearby so you can keep your hands wet while making the balls.
Form the rice into a ball. Using your thumb make an indentation into the middle of the ball without going all the way through. Add one of the tiny cheese cubes into the middle of the ball and then close it up so you can’t see them. Repeat.
Dip each rice ball in egg then roll it around in the breadcrumbs to coat set aside. At this point you can refrigerate or freeze the arancini until you’re ready to fry them. If you want to freeze them, place the breaded rice balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Once they are solid, you can keep them in a freezer bag until you need them.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat about 1/2 cup of the oil in a 10-12″ non stick frying pan on medium heat. Test the heat by throwing in a tiny bit of breadcrumb. If it floats and sizzles, you’re good to go. You can do about 8-10 at a time. Space the balls out and keep turning them gently with tongs as the sides brown. Add more oil between batches if needed. Place browned balls onto a parchment lined baking pan and bake for 15 minutes in preheated oven.