June 29, 2016 — Birthday Party

Cheesey Arancini Balls with Tomato Sauce

  • 1-2 hours plus 1 hour chilling
  • 4 PEOPLE
  • hard

‘Recently the family have been having themed New Years Eve parties. This year was Montalbano themed, where these arancini balls famously featured as part of an hors d’oeuvre! They’re delicious and when dipped in tomato sauce, they’re even better. Such a good idea to be made from Dad’s leftover risotto!’ 

'Arancini balls inspired by our favourite Italian crime show, Inspector Montalbano!'

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What you need

For the arancini

Risotto: Use the recipe for chicken and courgette risotto. Plan to have leftovers or make from scratch. If you make from scratch you can either omit the chicken and courgettes or you can use half the chicken and courgette and add it earlier in the cooking so that it breaks up among the rice. If you use leftovers breakup the chicken and courgette in the rice.

150g mozzarella balls

1 packet of small mozzarella balls

200g – 300g panko breadcrumbs

2 large eggs beaten

1 handful of flour for rolling arancini

1.01 – 1.5 l vegetable oil


For the tomato sauce

1 medium onion

1 stick of celery

2 cloves garlic

1 red chilli – de-seeded

1 red pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tbs oregano

Tomatoes – either 400g fresh ripe tomatoes plus 1 tbs tomato puree and 1 tsp sugar, or 1 tin of chopped plum tomatoes, or 400ml passata

Salt and pepper

Olive oil


Dad's Recipe Tales

Arancini – Salvo Montalbano’s favourite

Arancini are deep-fried rice balls, normally stuffed with a ragu including a few peas as well as mozzarella and some basil. They are usually served with a tomato sauce. Traditionally arancini are a convenience devised to use leftover risotto. But now they’re appearing on restaurant menus and caterer’s canapé trays – even Montalbano’s housekeeper, Adelina made trays and trays of arancini from scratch. It would appear that this make-do leftover has been promoted to gourmet speciality.

Adelina’s arancini have a rounded conical shape whereas others are spherical. The arancini is thought to have originated in Sicily and the conical shape is typical of those from eastern Sicily – the area where the fictional Adelina resides…

The size of an arancini varies enormously. Arancini means ‘little orange’ in Italian, so this suggest a size anywhere between a kumquat and a navel. The size matters and can affect the eating experience: when they are small they can be eaten as a light snack, when they are large they make a full meal. The relationship of circumference to volume and the practical transference of heat all come into play. A large arancini will contain a larger volume of ragu at its centre than a smaller arancini. This relationship is key to the successful balance of amount of rice to ragu. Finally, a large arancini – or even moderately sized – will struggle to transfer heat to its core before the outer crust begins to burn.

My conclusions to all these considerations is to make your arancini the size of an apricot or satsuma, don’t fill with too much of anything and serve with a separate tomato sauce. Fry on a low heat for as long as possible and then finish in the oven on a low setting to ensure the rice and core are piping hot. Buon appetito!

How Dad Cooked It

Make the tomato sauce. On a medium-high heat, fry the onion and celery in a little olive oil a heavy-based sauce pan for 10 minutes, add the garlic, chilli and pepper and continue to fry for 10 minutes. Add the bay leaves, sherry vinegar, sugar and tomatoes to the pan with 125 ml of water and cover the pan with the lid ajar and simmer gently for 50 minutes, stirring often. Then add the oregano,  and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and blitz in blender or processor or stick blender. Sieve into a pan and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Make the arancini. This is harder than you might imagine. So set your expectations accordingly and work your way through – I have tried using cling film to help shape the balls but this just adds to the fuss and mess. The best thing is to ensure the rice is the right consistency and not to be tempted to stuff the arancini too full with your filling. One reason for using mozzarella balls is that they are solid and small and make shaping the arancini much easier.  Use a dessert spoon or ice cream scoop or some other device to help portion the rice evenly. Then transfer a portion of rice to your hand and make a patty in your palm. Add the mozzarella ball in the middle of the patty and carefully fold the sides of the patty up and over to complete an even casing of rice over the mozzarella. Gently push and squeeze and – well, fiddle, bodge and nudge the arancini into a neat and tightly compacted sphere. Try to keep them reasonably small – the size of an apricot or satsuma. As you complete each arancini put them on a plate until you have finished with the quantity of rice. When all the arancini are made put into the fridge to rest for an hour.

Fry the arancini. Preheat the oven to 160C, Gas 3. Heat the oil in a large pan to 165C. Set out bowls of flour, egg and panko crumbs. Roll the arancini in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and set aside on a plate. Fry two or three arancini at a time and cook until golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and transfer to a baking tray and keep in the oven for 10 minutes or until you are sure the centre is hot. Cutting one in half is the only sure way of knowing – otherwise use a temperature probe – an internal temperature of 60C to 65C held for 3 minutes will be good. Transfer cooked arancini to a warm place whist later batches are frying. Serve with the tomato sauce.

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