I was in NYC’s Little Italy and ran across a cheese delicacy that has been eluding me for years —Arancini Cheese Rice Balls.
Arancini di Riso is a traditional Sicilian snack or appetizer of deep fried risotto balls with various ingredients inside. I have always seen them with prosciutto and cheese, but never with cheese only.
I was thrilled, and these cheese balls didn’t disappoint. Arancini translates as “little oranges” in Italian. Riso is “rice.” I usually see them the size of a Clementine, but this one was more like a grapefruit! It cost $5 and was well worth it.
Filled with cheese, then breaded fried, it ate like a dream. The coating was savory and a little crunchy. The risotto inside was soft and pillowy, and each bite revealed a smattering of cheese. Part of this one went into strings when pulled. It screamed mozzarella!
Yet there were also pockets of something whispery and white. I am guessing ricotta. It seemed to be flavored with a bit of garlic (Of course! It’s Italian!), and somewhere in this golden orb, there had to be some Parmigiano Reggiano.
Christina Conte of christinascucina.com offers the best info on arancini. On her trip to visit family in Sicily, she learned the traditional method of making them. In her recipe description, she even includes detailed instructions with step-by-step photos. Click HERE for her arancini post. Scroll down to the end for the arancini.
From the many recipes I have seen online, I found cheeses arancini to be extremely versatile; they can hide a cube of Mozzarella inside, or a variety of cheeses in shreds (Fontina, Piave, Asiago, Oka, Caciocavallo, Scamorza) and/or creamier cheeses (Ricotta, Gorgonzola Dolce, Chèvre goat cheese, Mascarpone).
Other additions include green peas, marinara, mushrooms, pistachios, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes….the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Arancini can be served plain, but a traditional accompaniment is marinara.
The only drawback is that I forgot where I bought this big cheese ball! Somewhere in the Italian cheese paradise of Little Italy…
The Cheese Mistress