How to make the perfect arancini

These crispy, deep-fried balls of rice are a Sicilian classic, and you can fill them with anything from ragu to aubergine.

By Louis Korovilas
Published 1 Sept 2022, 18:00 BST

Though they have roots in the 10th century, recipes for arancini only appeared in cookbooks from the 19th century.

Photograph by Getty


Originating in Sicily, arancini are said to date back to the 10th century, when the island was under Arab rule (saffron rice balls being part of their cuisine at that time). Others think they came later, though, as arancini recipes first appeared in cookbooks in the 19th century.


Any type of risotto rice would work, but arborio is the best for arancini — its higher starch content helps bind the grains together to form the perfect sphere. The rice should be cooked up into a thick risotto and cooled a little before the filling’s added.


Keep a bowl of lukewarm water handy to wash your hands between each rolling; this will prevent rice starch from sticking to your palms, which will affect the shape. Roll the rice into golf ball-sized balls, stick in a thumb, insert your filling and close the rice back up around it.


The classic Sicilian filling is ragu with cheese and peas, but beyond that the possibilities are endless. ’Nduja works well, as does gorgonzola. For a vegetarian alternative, you could try stuffing the arancini with chopped-up aubergine parmigiana.


Each ball should be dipped in egg and breadcrumbs before being deep fried. Make sure the oil is hot (180-200C) before gently dropping them in. To ensure they’re cooked through, pop a thin skewer into the middle, remove it and press against your lip to check it’s hot.


Arancini sold by street vendors in Sicily — particularly in Palermo, which has a strong street food culture — are generally eaten as they come. If you’d like a dip, though, you can try a fonduta cheese sauce, or a zingy tomato sauce, which cuts through the richness nicely.#

Recipe: Louis Korovilas’ saffron arancini stuffed with nduja

Rice is a great medium for experimenting with flavours and textures. In this recipe, the delicate taste and colour of saffron complements the sweet, spicy nduja beautifully.

Serves: 7-8 as a snack
Takes: 1 hr 45 mins, plus 15 mins cooling


1 tbsp olive oil
250g banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
500g arborio rice
pinch of saffron strands
1 litre hot chicken or veg stock
100g grated parmesan
50g nduja sausage (or paste) 
100g plain flour
4 eggs
2 tbsp milk
500g panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil, for deep frying


1. Add the olive oil to a large heavy-based saucepan or casserole and place over a low heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt, then sweat for 3-5 mins, until soft and translucent.

2. Tip in the rice and toast for 2-3 mins, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon.

3. Turn up the heat to medium and add the saffron. Add a ladleful of stock, stirring to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful; repeat, stirring constantly, until all you’ve used all the stock and you have a thick risotto – this should take about 20 mins.

4. Transfer the risotto to a large mixing bowl and leave for 15 mins, until cool enough to handle.

5. Meanwhile, take your nduja sausage and roll it into 20 marble-sized balls. (If you’re using paste, skip this step.)

6. Once the risotto has cooled, fold in the parmesan, then cover the bowl with a tea towel to stop it drying out as you make the balls.

7. Take a small portion of risotto and roll it in your palm to the size of a golf ball. Set aside and repeat with the remaining mixture. You should have 20 balls.

8. Now take each one in the palm of your hand and, using your thumb, create a hole in the middle and insert an nduja ball. (If you’re using paste, spoon in a small amount.) Carefully close the rice around the nduja and roll into a ball again.

9. Add the flour to a small bowl. Crack the eggs into another small bowl and whisk with the milk. Add the breadcrumbs to a third bowl.

10. Take each arancini ball one by one, roll in flour and shake off the excess. Dip into the egg mixture and then roll it around in the breadcrumbs, coating evenly.

11. When all your arancini balls are coated, fill a large, deep saucepan with vegetable oil and heat to around 180-200C. If you don’t have a thermometer, test using some breadcrumbs – if the oil bubbles around them, it’s hot enough.

12. Using a slotted spoon, gently lower in your arancini 3 at a time. Fry for 2½ mins, until golden brown. Transfer to a piece of kitchen paper to drain the excess oil, then serve piping hot.

Louis Korovilas is executive head chef at Italian restaurant Noci, in London. 

Published in the September 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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