Growing up in Northern New Jersey, especially a town like Waldwick, I was exposed to a ton of Italian and Italian American food. It wasn’t until about the time I was in grad school that I discovered Arancini at a casual Italian deli. It is not something I choose to eat all the time, but it did not make me less hooked on its awesomeness.
After poring over some recipes, I decided to give it a shot, especially as I had all the ingredients I needed. I chose to make two types of filling – mozzarella and sausage. For a dipping sauce, I spiced up some Rao’s marinara with sausage, spices, and cheese. I enjoy making my own sauce from scratch, but Rao’s is really a great base in a time crunch.
For the rice, I did not have any arborio or Italian rice. Instead I went for the Thai Jasmine rice that I wasn’t loving in my Pineapple Fried Rice. The texture is very sticky, which I felt would fare well in rice balls. The end result was actually pretty awesome – the texture of the rice ball was less dense and more fragrant than traditional arancini, and they did not feel like a brick in my stomach.
This was a really great Pantry Project recipe – the only refrigerated items were the mozzarella and eggs, which are stuff I usually have on hand. Everything else was in my pantry or freezer. Great recipe to remember for a cold, snowy winter day. This recipe yields 16 rice balls – 8 sausage and 8 cheese.
ITALIAN STYLE RICE BALLS
For the Balls:
2 cups Thai Jasmine Rice
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper
Bread crumbs/eggs – as needed
Vegetable oil for frying
For the Filling:
1 cup Mozzarella cheese
1 link Italian Sausage (approx. 1/4-1/3 pound)
For the sauce:
2 cups Rao’s marinara
1 link Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Mozzarella cheese
Coat the bottom of a large, heavy pan with some olive oil
Add salt and freshly ground pepper, stirring and coating the rice with all the oil and seasoning
Add water and bring to a boil (ratio of water to rice is 2:1). Cover and simmer until rice is tender.
Rice should look like this – fluffy but still sticky
Lay out rice on cookie sheets or shallow pans to cool.
While rice is cooling, you may prepare your sauce and fillings. One link of sausage was cut into pieces, the other was taken out of its casing and used in bulk
Brown the sausage chunks until cooked. Set aside to cool.
Brown the sausage in a saucepan. Do not worry about cooking it all the way through, as you will be simmering the sauce for a while.
Add tomato sauce and cheese. Simmer until ingredients are well incorporated or until you are ready to serve.
You’ll need about a cup of parmesan. I grated some parmaggiano reggiano I had on hand.
Mix rice, eggs, and parmesan cheese until well incorporated. I recommending using your hands and kneading like bread dough.
Mixture ready for filling
Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the rice mixture and form a cup in your hand. Insert your filling – one chunk of sausage or about 1 tablespoon of cheese (you may also use cubed cheese, I just didn’t have any). Any leftover cheese I added to the sauce.
Transfer the filled rice balls to a tray. Refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes before breading. This will help them to maintain their shape.
Rice balls ready for breading
Dip in egg and coat with breadcrumbs
Breaded and ready for frying
Oil should be heated to about 350 degrees (I used a candy thermometer to take the temperature). Fry no more than 4-5 balls at a time, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden to light brown.
Transfer cooked rice balls to paper towels to blot excess oil
The finished product – ready for dipping and eating!