Arancine – Sicilian Rice Balls with Saffron and Mozzarella

by meike peters


If you’re still looking for a festive vegetarian dish for your Christmas table I can only recommend these little golden balls of rice refined with saffron and stuffed with melted mozzarella, the famous Sicilian arancine! Imagine a bright yellow risotto alla milanese cooked with aromatic saffron in a strong both, mixed with egg yolk and parmesan and shaped into little dumplings. The balls are stuffed with mozzarella and fried with a coating of flour, egg and breadcrumbs until golden brown (which is done in less than a minute). The result looks like tiny oranges which gave them their name arancini or arancine in Sicily, derived from the Italian word for orange, arancia.

Sometimes they are also filled with mushrooms, pistachios or aubergine, or with a meaty tomato sauce, a rich ragù, like in Malta where I love to eat them for lunch at my local confectionary, Busy Bee. The old fashioned atmosphere of the marble panelled cafe on the Msida seafront is my favourite place for a little midday snack and an espresso when we’re on the Mediterranean island. The room is often filled with the same business people and elderly couples and I imagine them meeting at this café for a date like they have done all their life. We all enjoy the authentic cooking and traditional Maltese and Italian dishes which taste like mama’s kitchen.

I went for a simple filling with mozzarella as I wanted to enjoy my arancine on a light and fruity salad of orange, fennel and rucola. The mild cheese merges perfectly with the risotto’s saffron aroma and the whole composition makes quite a pretty platter!




 Arancine with Mozzarella

The oil is very hot, so you should always fry with lots of care!

For 4 people (about 15 small arancine) you need

Arborio rice 200g / 7 ounces
medium sized onion, finely chopped, 1
vegetable or meat broth around 600ml / 2.5 cups (depending on the rice you will need more or less liquid)
white wine 100ml / 1/2 cup
a pinch of saffron
salt and black pepper
olive oil
organic egg yolks 2 plus 2-3 eggs to coat the arancine
parmesan, grated, 20g / 3/4 ounce
mozzarella, cut into small cubes, 80g / 3 ounces
plain flour, a large handful, to coat the arancine
breadcrumbs, a large handful, to coat the arancine
vegetable oil for deep-frying, around 1l / 2 pints (plus more depending on the size of the pot you use)
fennel bulb, very thinly sliced, 2
orange, peeled and cut into filets, 2
rucola, a big handful

Mix the wine and saffron.

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil and sauté  the onions on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until soft. Stir in the rice and cook on medium heat for 1 minute. Add the saffron wine and some of the broth, the rice should be covered, stir and turn the heat down to medium-low. When the liquid has been absorbed add more broth, a little at a time, stirring in between. Depending on the rice, it will need more or less liquid. When the rice is al dente and the broth is absorbed take it off the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Close with a lid and let the risotto sit for a minute. Stir in the egg yolks and parmesan and let the mixture cool completely.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Check if it’s hot enough with a wooden toothpick, little bubbles should form around the toothpick.

Prepare three deep plates, spread flour on the first one, beat the eggs on the second one and fill the last one with breadcrumbs.

Prepare a little bowl with water, wet your fingers and take a heaped tablespoon of the risotto. Form a small, thick disc in your wet hand palm, put 2-3 mozzarella cubes in the middle of the rice and form a round dumpling. The cheese should be completely covered. Gently roll the dumpling like a snow ball in the flour, then in the eggs (this has to be done quickly so that it doesn’t fall apart) and finally, roll it in the breadcrumbs. Continue with the remaining risotto and put the arancine on a large plate or baking sheet (they will flatten a bit, you have to put them back into a round shape before you fry them in the oil).

Fry the arancine for about 1 minute in the hot oil, turning them in between. They should be golden brown but not dark. Take them out with a slotted ladle and put them on kitchen paper to remove excess oil.

Divide the fennel, orange and rucola between the plates and drizzle a little olive oil over it. Serve the warm arancine on top of the salad.