How to cook like an Italian

Arancia aka Italian Rice Balls

One of the greatest inventions of Southern Italy is the rice ball, or as we Italians call it “arancia,” which literally is translated to mean “orange.”  The balls are the shape and size of a real orange and have the golden color to almost match one.

The dish is real peasant food in that you could actually use leftover rice or risotto or you can start from scratch, but either way it’s a very filling dish made with simple and inexpensive ingredients.  It’s rare you see this dish on a restaurant menu, but one place in Brooklyn, NY that does it right is a little spot in Red Hook called Ferdinando’s, and that’s their ball pictured up top. They serve it with a big dollop of fresh, warmed ricotta cheese and grated Parmiggiano Reggiano, sitting in a bed of tomato sauce.  It’s as good as it gets as everything in this little restaurant is made from scratch.

When I first went to Sicily, where this dish originates, the Arancine (the plural and the diminutive) were oval shaped, not round.  I asked about this and the bar where I bought them said they make the round ones without meat in the center, only cheese and peas, and the oval ones with meat.  Either variety is delicious!

If you want to try to make this recipe at home, try this one from a real Sicilian nonna, Rosa Clemente Maggiore:

Arancia or Sicilian Rice Balls


  • 2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1 quart chicken stock or bouillon
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 pound ground veal, beef, chicken or pork
  • 1/4 pound mozzarella cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 ounces)
  • 1 can water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup frozen peas
  • 4 egg whites, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • Enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the pan 2 inches deep


For Rice:
Combine rice, chicken stock and butter in large pan. When chicken stock begins to boil, turn heat down low; stir rice once, then cover pan tightly and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Rice should be soft and slightly sticky so that it will hold together.

Set aside rice to cool. Add egg yolks and parmesan cheese to cooled rice; stir well. Refrigerate while making the other parts of the recipe.

For Filling:
In a saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil and sauté onions and celery until golden, about five minutes. Add meat and brown. Stir in tomato paste, water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Add peas and cook for five minutes longer.

To Fry:
Add enough extra virgin olive oil to a pan with high sides so that it is about two inches deep, then turn to medium-high heat. While extra virgin olive oil is heating, shape rice mixture into round balls, about 1/2 cup each. With your finger, make a hole in each rice ball. Add one tablespoon of the meat filling and the cheese cube and cover the holes with more rice. Dip rice balls in egg whites and roll in bread crumbs until thoroughly coated. Drop carefully into heated extra virgin olive oil, a few at a time, and fry until golden, turning around for about 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Serve warm or at room temperature and with a side dish of tomato sauce.

6 Responses to “Arancia aka Italian Rice Balls”

  1. Francesca says:

    Oh my goodness. As if Rachel. Arancini!!!!!! sooooooooooooo cool that you are introducing this to the world. I am soooo Sicilian, whether we like it or not, yet a total yogini!!!!! soooo

    I am so posting this on my wall.

    Love ya
    a Sicilian girl who has travelled the world and found her way back to a small town in Ontario…here is my shout out for Cobourg…so for all those people who thought I was in the mafia, no I am Sicilian but my dad worked hard for his money :)

  2. CharLena says:


    Thank you! Ever since I moved away from Bensonhurst, I have been pining for Italian Rice Balls. Unfortunately, no one in west Harlem makes them other than my trying last year. I didn’t have a recipe and I was trying to reconfigure it from my tasting memory. It was okay, but not the same softness or texture. But this recipe–WOW! YUMMO! I can’t wait to try this recipe along with the Ginger Pumpkin Bread this weekend for my book group. Again, thank you SO much.

  3. Maria says:

    I just returned from Italy and had two dishes that I’d like to recreate at home. One was a Pasta Gorgonzola that had walnuts I think that I had in Umbria. The other was a Gnocchi with Salmon that had a light pink maybe a parma rosa sauce that I had in Venice. Both were mouth watering! Any ideas for me?

  4. Mafalda Tornello says:

    Rachel, My mother learned to cook many of my father’s favorite Sicilian dishes from Sicilian friends. She was taught to make Arancia with ricotta in the center, no meat or peas. This, evidently, was particular to Sicilians from Ragusa. Unfortunately, she did not leave behind her recipe and most of the old-timers have passed on. Do you know how to prepare Arancia this way? Just looking at the pictures has whet my appetite and I would love to make them. Thanks.

  5. Kimberly says:

    Rachael, There is a shop in the North End of Boston called Umberto’s that has made these for as long as I can remember with the meat, peas, and cheese…they are the real deal. I can’t wait to try this recipe myself…so excited!

    By the way they also make Potato Panini’s, Spinach pies, and amazing sicilian pizza, There is always a line out the door before 11:30am and once they sell out…that’s it for the day!

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