Anancini: Stuffed Rice Balls

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Arancini or Arancine means little oranges, which these savory filled rice balls are named after due to their resemblance. A popular snack food throughout Italy, they originated in Sicily and are said to be of Arab influence.  They are traditionally stuffed with a ragù meat filling, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried.  Chicken livers can also be used in place of the ground beef.  Arancini can also be cone shaped and sometimes filled with cubes of ham and cheese, or vegetables.  Actually, you can stuff them with just about anything you like.  You can also use leftover risotto to make Arancini.

MAKE AHEAD TIP:  You can place the Arancini in the refrigerator overnight and cook the following day, or you can put them directly into the freezer on the sheet pan until firm and place into freezer bags.  Allow to defrost on a plate in the refrigerator and fry as instructed.

Arancini: Stuffed Rice Balls
Difficulty Rating: Medium
Makes approximately 18 large (2 1/4-inch)  rice balls.

For the Rice:
2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice
5 cups chicken stock
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons finely minced Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon saffron
Salt and pepper

For the Filling:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
Salt and pepper
Optional: Mozzarella cheese (cut into ½-inch cubes)

For Assembly and Cooking:
Light olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
1 ½ cups plain dry bread crumbs
3 large eggs, beaten

MAKE THE RICE:  Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a medium sauce pan.  Add the rice.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook until rice is tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.  The rice will continue to absorb any liquid.  Transfer the rice to a large mixing bowl and stir in the eggs, cheese, parsley, and saffron.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate until cool or overnight.  Cooling the rice makes it easier to handle.

MAKE THE MEAT FILLING:  Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for about two minutes longer.  Add the ground beef, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, and cook about 5 minutes.  Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, and basil.  After 5 minutes, add the peas and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and simmer over low heat about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the filling seems too dry, add a few tablespoons of water to thin out if necessary.  The filling should be relatively thick so that the sauce does not bleed into the rice.  Allow mixture to cool, about 30 minutes.

ASSEMBLE THE ARANCINI:  While assembling the Arancini, preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.  If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can heat 3 to 4 inches of oil in a deep frying pan over medium to medium high heat to 350 degrees F.

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Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper.  In assembly-line fashion, place the breadcrumbs and eggs in separate shallow bowls, along with rice and meat mixtures.

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Using an old-fashioned ice cream scoop helps to form the Arancini and keep them uniform in size.  Fill the ice cream scoop level with the rice mixture and place it in the cupped palm of your hand.

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Using the rounded back end of the spoon or your fingers, make a bowl-like depression in the rice, in which to place the filling.  If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, place a large spoonful rice into the palm of your hand and use the back of the spoon to make a depression.  Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling and a cube of mozzarella (if using) in the indentation.

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Fill the scoop level again with the rice mixture and place on top of the rice and filling.  Use both hands to encase the filling completely with the rice while forming a ball.  Place on sheet pan lined with parchment paper.  Repeat with remaining rice balls.

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Coat each rice ball first in the eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs.  Place back onto the sheet pan and allow rice balls to set for 15 minutes.

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FRY THE ARANCINI:  Line a sheet pan with paper towels.  Carefully place one rice ball at a time into the hot oil using a large slotted spoon.  Do not overcrowd them.  Fry a few at a time in batches until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes.

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