Arancini di riso alla Bolognese
Making the perfect Arancini
Enjoy our recipe for arancini di riso alla Bolognese. This idyllic street food is one of Italy’s most beloved antipasti. Made with creamy saffron risotto, coated with homemade artisanal breadcrumbs, and filled with slow-simmered Ragù Bolognese, Scamorza Affumicata, fresh basil, and garden peas, these rice balls are a sure crowdpleaser. From their crispy, golden-brown exterior to their flavorful, molten interior, these arancini are arguably the perfect single bite.
Arancini literally translates to “little oranges”, which is derived from their appearance. It is a bit of a process to make them from scratch, but the reward is well worth the effort. Ragù Bolognese is a perfect sauce for arancini due to its complexity and depth of flavor. Creamy, smoky Scamorza affumicata, a bite of fresh basil, and the brightness of spring peas perfectly complement the complexity of the ragù. The saffron in the risotto and homemade breadcrumbs only enrich the experience.
Having said that, feel free to mix it up. If you are not a fan of saffron, then omit it. If you find yourself with a vegetarian crowd to feed; then, use a meatless sauce. Whenever the local cheese shop has no Scamorza readily available; in that case, any soft or semi-soft cheese will work. Taleggio, Piave, Fontina Val d’Aosta — the choices are abundant. Want more of a bite? Try Gorgonzola.
Preparation is key to the success of any recipe
I would advise beginning this journey by reading the entire recipe first and obtaining any items crucial to its success. Do you have a deep fryer? No, then do you have a heavy-bottomed pan or Dutch oven deep enough to accommodate hot oil without a kitchen disaster? Wearing hot oil is not fun. Do you have an instant-read thermometer? If not, you can wing it, but it’s probably a better idea to buy one. Do you have a spider, slotted spoon, or a similar tool to extract the Arancini from the oil? Tongs work; nonetheless, it takes finesse to manipulate them and keep them intact.
An organized station is key. Do your prep, measure your ingredients, and have your tools ready. Make the ragù first because, once it is simmering, there is time to make the risotto and set up a breading station. Pour a glass of wine, put on your favorite Spotify station, and relax. Light some candles, take a deep breath or do whatever gets you in the mood to cook. Cooking is enjoyable — even meditative — when your ducks are in a row. Just be careful not to expose too many family members, friends, and co-workers to your new Arancini at once — or you may find yourself making them for every football game, potluck, poker night, and Godfather-themed party.
- Add the chicken stock and saffron to a saucepan and keep warm on low heat.
- In a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add the olive oil.
- Add the onion and sweat until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add the Arborio Rice and toast it for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Once the rice is fragrant, turn the heat to high and add the wine.
- When almost all the liquid is absorbed, add a ladle of the warm stock. Stir calmly and continuously as the liquid cooks out. Repeat the process for roughly 14-16 minutes, until the rice is “al dente”.
- When the last of the liquid is being absorbed, stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Taste to gauge the saltiness (as both chicken stock and Parmigiano have high salt content), then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Spoon the risotto onto a sheet pan and spread it out to cool.
- Risotto is not as complicated as some would have you believe, but it does require attention.
- Stir consistently but calmly. It should be a relaxing process.
- Be mindful when toasting the rice. It can burn quite quickly.
- Around 12-14 minutes, start checking the rice to see if it is approaching "al dente". The rice will continue to cook for a few minutes after the heat is off.
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the pancetta and cook until fat renders out and it is beginning to brown, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add the butter. Once melted, add the soffritto (onion, carrot & celery). Sweat the soffritto until the onion is translucent and other vegetables soften slightly, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the veal, pork, and beef, and cook 6-8 minutes or until browned evenly, breaking it up with the wooden spoon. Do not drain the fat — it is flavor.
- Add the tomato concentrate and stir well with a wooden spoon to coat the mixture. Cook the tomato concentrate for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally until it begins to caramelize.
- Deglaze with the wine, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the liquid has reduced to a think consistency.
- Add the chicken stock, cheese rind, thyme, oregano, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat and simmer until the stock is almost entirely absorbed.
- Add the milk and cook until liquid is entirely absorbed and sauce begins to thicken. If it becomes too thick, add more stock to thin it out. Then, remove the rind and bay leaf and discard.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Because the ragù needs time to simmer, you want to start with it. That way, you can complete the risotto and set up your breading station while the sauce slowly cooks down.
- Traditional Ragù Bolognese recipes often include milk to further enhance the richness of the sauce. If you choose to do so, add it at any point after the wine.
- The longer this sauce simmers, the more the flavors marry. If you have the time, simmer it as low-and-slow as possible.
- This recipe will produce enough ragù to set some aside for another dish: Tagliatelle, Spaghetti, Lasagne — whatever you like.
- Meat sauces usually keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and for up to 6 months if frozen in an air-tight (preferably vacuum sealed) bag.
- Preheat your oven to 300º F
- Slice your loaf of bread into 1" slices and arrange them on a baking sheet
- Toast the sliced bread in the oven for about ten minutes to remove the moisture. Fresh bread will take longer than bread that has been around for a few days.
- Cut the slices into 1" cubes and add them to the food processor. Season the bread with salt and pepper if desired. Pulse to the desired consistency.
- If you do not have a food processor or blender, you can put the cubes of bread into a resealable bag and crush them with a rolling pin or frying pan.
- If you find yourself with days old bread, breadcrumbs, croutons, meatball filler, and a number of other applications are all better ideas than throwing bread in the trash.
- If you prefer to use store-bought breadcrumbs; no one will fault you. Making Arancini correctly is laborious enough without adding extra steps. In this situation, I would opt for a breadcrumb with a finer grind and less flaky texture than Panko.
- Once the risotto and ragù have cooled, you can begin assembling the arancini.
- Cup one hand and spoon about a tablespoon of risotto into it. Flatten the rice to fit the curvature of your palm.
- Lay a torn basil leaf into the rice cup you have just formed.
- Add a rounded teaspoon or so of the ragù to the rice cup
- Push a cube of cheese into the ragù, followed by 2-3 peas
- Now, with another tablespoon or so of rice, form a top for your ball and enclose the other ingredients in the center. This process works easier if your hands are slightly damp as it helps the rice to bind.
- Repeat the process until there is no more risotto, arranging the arancini on a lined sheet pan.
- Your yield will vary depending on the size of your hand, how you are cupping it, etcetera. The important thing is the finished rice ball is about the size of a golf ball. If your arancini are too large, the center may not get hot enough during cooking to melt the cheese.
- Some people prefer to use a small ice cream scoop to form rice balls. I like to use my hands. Either way, it takes a little practice.
- Make sure not to overfill the centers. This will cause the arancini to fall apart during cooking.
- If Scamorza is not available, use Mozzarella di Bufala Affumicata. Or, if you do not want a smoked cheese, any semi-soft cheese (Taleggio, Fontina, etc.) will work.
- Set up a traditional breading station consisting of flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs in three bowls. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Whisk and season the eggs with salt and pepper.
- One at a time, roll coat completely each rice ball in the flour, then in the egg, making sure to shake off any excess, then in the breadcrumbs.
- Arrange the breaded arancini on another baking sheet or dish of your choice.
- If using a deep fryer, set the thermostat to 350ºF.
- If using a sauté pan or Dutch oven, make sure to use a deep enough vessel to accommodate at least 2" of oil and still have plenty of room to add the food without the risk of spilling over.
- Fry in batches until the arancini are a deep golden brown in color on all sides.
- Transfer to a wire rack lined with paper towels to cool.
- If you do not own an instant-read thermometer, it is a good idea to obtain one. Meat thermometers work fine. If you need to proceed without a thermometer, set the burner to medium heat.
- Gently move the arancini around in the oil to get an even cook. Use finesse as they are fragile.
- If you do not have a fry basket, use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the arancini from the oil without damaging them. Grabbing them with tongs could destroy them unless you are very careful.
- Remember you have put a lot of time, money, and effort into this project. It is definitely worth the few extra dollars to obtain the tools you need. Consider them an investment.