HOME Cooking: This is the Easy Arancini Recipe You’ve Been Looking For
Columnist Chris Fennimore’s mother only made preparation-heavy Arancini on Easter — until the family discovered an easier way to make the Italian dish.
Like so many of the most memorable dishes from my childhood, Arancini were served only once a year in connection to a particular season or holiday — in this case, Easter.
The name in Sicilian means “oranges” and these golden balls of flavored rice, with their crispy breadcrumb coating and surprise savory center, are a perfect indulgence at the end of the 40 days of culinary deprivation known as Lent.
As a child, I could never grasp why we only enjoyed this dish once a year. It was only when I was older and we tried to replicate the recipe during our annual Easter family reunion at my sister Pat’s house in Maryland that I came to realize the incredible amount of preparation and work that went into each bite.
First, you have to make an enormous batch of rice — and it must be the perfect consistency in order to be molded into little balls. Then, the filling of chopped meat with tomato paste, cloves, cinnamon and pepper has to be simmered and cooled.
None of us were as good as Mom at cupping a portion of the rice in a ladle, filling with the meat and then molding more rice on top to create a seamless sphere.
While my brother Chuck fired up Mom’s deep fryer, we then prepped the balls by rolling them in beaten egg and seasoned breadcrumbs. Finally, they were lowered, three or four at a time, into the hot oil.
As soon as they were browned, drained, and put on a plate covered in paper towels, the spheres were consumed to evaluate the need for a higher or lower temperature, more seasoning, etc.
As we hovered over the fryer in Pat’s kitchen, this process was repeated until the mixture was nearly gone. Only the last half-dozen or so ever made it to the table.
No wonder Mom only made these once a year.
And then, one fall, Mom had an inspiration: make the Arancini as a casserole, with all the same flavor profiles and textures as the little “oranges,” but none of the fussiness and aggravation. Hallelujah!
Here is our recipe, plus some tips for creating a rice casserole that is easy enough for a weeknight, but with all the deliciousness of a complicated, annual food ritual. This particular version has the flavoring profile called Cacio e Pepe, or Cheese and Pepper.
Known as the WQED Cookin’ Guy, Chris Fennimore shares his recipes and remembrances in each HOME issue.
Cacio e Pepe Rice Casserole
2 cups arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
1 stick butter
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs
Put the rice and the stock in an instant pot cooker. Use the rice setting on your machine or cook it for 12 minutes on low pressure. Let the pressure release naturally. Stir in the butter, cheese and pepper until the butter is completely melted. Use 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to coat the bottom of a 9-by-13 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle one cup of the breadcrumbs on top and shake the pan to distribute evenly. Pour in the rice and pat down until evenly distributed and smooth on top. Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil with the remaining breadcrumbs and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the casserole. Spread evenly with a spoon and flatten. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until the breadcrumbs start to brown. Make sure when serving to scoop down all the way to the bottom breadcrumb layer.
Optional Meat Filling
Feel free to augment the rice mixture with sauteed mushrooms, onion, etc. — or to add a layer of this highly seasoned chopped meat. If you do add the meat, you can drop the pepper from the rice mixture.
1 pound chopped beef (80/20)
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 small can tomato paste
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Fry the beef in a skillet until it begins to brown. Stir in the onion and cook until the onion is wilted. Add the tomato paste and spices and simmer for 15 minutes. Cool before adding to the casserole. Proceed as above with the oil and breadcrumb layer. Use ½ of the rice and press flat. Then add the rest of the rice and the final breadcrumb layer. Bake as above.
Makes approximately 4 cups of risotto