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Italian Rice Balls

Italian Rice Balls or Arancini Siciliani, are golden, fried rice balls filled with a rich, tasty meat sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese.

A popular street food or snack, this is one of the most loved Italian foods in the world.

Three Italian Rice Balls on a plate with one ball split in half.
Bring Italy into your home!

The best arancini rice balls I have ever had were on the ferry that crosses the strait between Messina and Reggio Calabria in southern Italy. Only 1 euro from the ferry bar, my cousin insisted I try them. If you find yourself on this ferry, don’t go without – they are sensational.

These Italian Rice Balls are filled with the traditional filling of ragu and mozzarella cheese and are the most typical that you’ll find in Sicily and other parts of Italy. But you don’t have to go to Italy to enjoy great traditional food. While this Italian Rice Balls recipe is not quick, it is easily achievable just like my recipe for homemade pesto gnocchi, saffron risotto, and Italian tiramisu.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Flavorsome – this recipe for Italian Rice Balls is the tastiest ever! I’ve tested this recipe many times and have had many tasters who declare these “THE BEST”!
  • Gooey cheesy filling – if it’s gooey, melty cheese that you’re looking for, then go no further. This recipe will deliver the promise!
  • Step by step – let’s not pretend that this is a quick recipe. There are several components to it. However, by following all my clear steps and tips together with some patience, you’ll make delicious fried rice balls that you’re proud of and that will impress your family and friends!
  • Variations – Once you have mastered the original recipe, you can adapt the fillings to suit your tastes. Mushrooms, spinach, chicken, and other cheeses can all be used. I’ve even seen a recipe for Nutella arancini!

What are Italian Rice Balls?

The Italian name for these balls is Arancini Siciliani and it means “little oranges” in Italian. Traditional Italian rice balls are filled with a meat sauce and mozzarella cheese. Once coated in breadcrumbs and fried, these golden balls do indeed look like oranges.

The best rice to use in this recipe

Rice used for risotto like arborio or carnaroli is perfect for this recipe. The extra starch in this rice creates creaminess that ensures the rice sticks together and the ball doesn’t fall apart.

Don’t use long-grain rice. This is better reserved for recipes like my Brown Rice Salad.

For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page.


Ingredients for this recipe viewed from above.
  • Arborio rice – this Italian rice is available from most grocery stores. Look for it near all the other varieties of rice. 
  • Chicken broth – use good quality, store-bought chicken broth. Alternatively, broth can be substituted with bullion powder and water.
  • Olive oil and butter – use whatever olive oil and butter you have. I prefer light-flavored olive oil is a good option for frying but regular will be fine or use another oil that you like the flavor of. 
  • Saffron threads – this ingredient is optional but gives a golden color and wonderful flavor. (see the variations for another suggestion).
  • Onion and garlic – fresh is best for flavoring the meat sauce.
  • Meats – ground beef, ground pork, and bacon.
  • Dry red wine – this doesn’t have to be expensive wine.
  • Tomato – pureed tomatoes plus concentrated tomato paste gives the intensity that’s needed for this meat sauce in this Italian rice ball recipe.
  • Herbs, spices, and seasonings– I like to use fresh rosemary. However, you can use other herbs such as fresh basil, dried oregano, dried rosemary, or spices like ground allspice plus salt and pepper.
  • Peas – frozen peas can be added to the meat sauce. This is optional but often included in traditional arancini Siciliani.
  • Cheeses – grated Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano) and mozzarella cheese.

Plus some basic items like flour, egg, milk or water, and bread crumbs.


Raw rice being poured into broth.

Add rice to boiling chicken broth, butter, and saffron (if using). Stir, reduce heat, and cover with a lid to cook. When tender, drain and allow to cool.

Ground meat being added to sauteed onions and bacon in a pan.

Prepare the meat sauce by sauteing the onion, garlic, and bacon then add the ground beef and pork.

Meat sauce sprinkled with parsley viewed from above.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the sauce for 2 hours.

Finely grated Parmesan cheese piled on cooked yellow rice.

Stir the Parmesan cheese into the cooled rice.

Rice flattened into the palm of hand, topped with meat sauce and cube of cheese.

Flatten some of the rice mixture in the palm of your hand, and top with a spoonful of cooled meat sauce and a cube of mozzarella cheese.

Ball of yellow rice held in the palm of a hand.

Cover with more rice and press to form a ball. 

Rice balls lined up on baking sheet with bowls of egg and bread crumbs.

Whisk together flour, milk (or water) and egg. Dip the rice ball into this flour mixture then into breadcrumbs.

A bread crumb covered rice ball on a slotted spoon.

Fry in abundant hot oil. When golden brown, remove the fried rice balls and drain on paper towels.

Hint: Set the breadcrumb-coated balls on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will ensure that the Italian Rice Balls don’t fall apart when frying. 


  • Saffron – use some of the meat sauce or homemade tomato sauce instead of the saffron to color and flavor the rice. Omit the saffron when cooking the rice then add ½ cup of meat sauce to the drained rice and proceed with the recipe. 
  • Dry red wine – substitute dry white wine if you prefer.


  • Gluten-free – use gluten-free breadcrumbs and flour to keep these Italian Rice Balls completely gluten-free. 
  • Vegetarian – substitute my San Marzano Tomato Sauce for the meat ragu to make a delicious variation.


The wonderful thing about Italian Rice Balls is that anyone with a bit of patience can make them without special equipment. After all, this is Italian street food that the nonnas made using their very basic equipment.

However, if you would like to make it a little easier this recipe can be made using an arancini maker. This mold makes Italian rice balls quickly and easily. There are a few brands on the market but the one I use is made in Italy and available online or in Italian import stores. 


Store leftover Italian Rice Balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator. To reheat, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and heat in a preheated 350ºF/175ºC oven for 25 to 20 minutes.

This recipe is ideal to make in advance. Prepare the meat sauce and store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Complete the recipe up to and including coating Italian rice balls in bread crumbs and then refrigerate for up to 3 days before frying.

Italian Rice Balls freeze well. Place them in one layer in an airtight container and freeze for up to one month. Defrost completely in the refrigerator overnight before frying as per the recipe.

Top Tips

Sicilian rice balls on a plate with one cut in half viewed from above.
  1. To prepare these Italian Rice Balls more easily, make the rice and ragù the day before. 
  2. The ragù will keep well frozen for up to one month in advance. To freeze, portion the sauce into separate sealed containers because not all of the meat sauce is used for this recipe. Serve extra sauce with the Italian Rice Balls. Alternatively, it’s delicious stirred through al dente cavatelli or tagliatelle or it will freeze for up to 3 months the next time you make Italian Rice Balls
  3. Be sure to taste the rice and the ragù for seasoning and adjust the salt.
  4. Use wet hands to mold the arancini Siciliani. This will help the rice not stick to your hands and make the job a whole lot easier.
  5. Use abundant oil for frying. You don’t need a deep fryer to make Sicilian arancini. A large saucepan filled with oil is sufficient.
  6. The oil needs to be hot enough to fry and seal the exterior. If it’s too cool, the oil will be absorbed. To obtain the correct temperature, heat the oil over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Test by dropping a cube of bread in. If it sizzles and turns golden in 15 seconds, the oil is ready. 


What is the difference between Risotto and Arancini?

Both risotto and arancini are famous Italian rice dishes. Risotto usually begins with adding rice to sauteed onion then slowly adding hot broth until the rice is cooked just like in my dad’s Saffron risotto. 
Instead, the rice for arancini (Italian rice balls) is prepared in the opposite way. Rice is added to carefully measured boiling water or broth and then cooked gently until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
It’s thought the arancini or Italian rice balls are prepared using risotto. This isn’t correct. The traditional and authentic way is to use the absorption method to cook the rice.

What are rice balls in Rome called?

Rice balls in Rome are called supplì but these are not to be confused with the Sicilian arancini. Supplì are elongated croquettes made using rice that has been cooked in meat sauce and filled with mozzarella before being breaded and fried. 
The full name is “supplì al telefono” because the stringy mozzarella looks like telephone wires joining the two halves of a split croquette. Serve supplì as an appetizer.

How do you say rice balls in Italian?

Rice balls in Italian are arancini. Pronounce the word in this way – ar-an-chee-nee.

Serving Suggestions

Close up of halved arancini with two whole arancini in the background.

Italian Rice Balls are traditionally served as a meal, not an appetizer. Some people like to eat Italian Rice Balls as is in the hand. Alternatively, serve these Sicilian arancini with extra meat sauce or marinara sauce for dipping and scooping and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Complete this Italian meal with a quick and easy Tiramisu in individual cups or a Sweet Ricotta dip and fresh seasonal fruit.

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Three Italian Rice Balls on a plate with one ball split in half.

Italian Rice Balls Recipe

This family recipe for Italian Rice Balls or Arancini Siciliani is one I've been making for years. They are fried rice balls that have meat sauce and gooey cheese in the middle. A popular street food, these are one of the most loved Italian foods in the world. Traditionally served as a meal, you can make smaller balls to serve as an appetizer.
5 from 100 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 2 hours
Cooling time: 1 hour
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings:24 rice balls
Author: Marcellina


For the rice

  • 4 cups (800 grams) arborio rice See Note 1
  • 6 cups chicken broth See Note 2
  • cup (80 grams) salted butter
  • large pinch saffron
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

For the meat sauce filling

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) ground beef
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) ground pork
  • ¾ cup (100 grams) chopped pancetta or bacon
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 cups tomato puree (passata)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ cup chicken broth or 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon/stock powder plus 1 cup water
  • 1 stalks fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary) See Note 3
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt to taste
  • ½ cup frozen peas optional

To assemble and fry

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk or water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups dried breadcrumbs
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) mozzarella cheese cut into 24 cubes (¾in/2cm square)
  • Oil for frying light flavoured olive oil or your preferred oil


To prepare the rice

  • If using saffron strands, grind with salt.
  • In a large saucepan bring to boil, chicken broth, butter and saffron/salt mixture.
  • When boiling, add the rice, stir and bring back to the boil.
  • Once boiling, reduce heat to the lowest cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to lift the lid.
  • After the cooking time turn the heat off. Don’t lift the lid! Let the rice sit for a further 10 minutes. After this time you should have perfectly cooked moist rice that clings together well. I cook on my largest gas ring then set the flame on the lowest  and also use a flame diffuser.
  • Turn the rice into a large flat baking dish to cool.
  • Once at room temperature mix through grated parmesan cheese.

To prepare meat sauce

  • Heat the oil and fry off the onion and garlic.
  • Once golden, add the pancetta or bacon followed by the ground meats. Stir and fry to brown, breaking up the meat well.
  • Add the remaining ingredients except the peas. Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer slowly for 1 hour until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 4 cups. Don’t forget to taste as you go and adjust the seasoning.
  • This recipe needs approximately 2 cups of meat sauce.
  • Not all the meat sauce will be used to fill the Italian Rice Balls. The remaining can be served alongside or freeze the remaining meat sauce for later.

To assemble and fry

  • Have ready – the cooled rice, cooled meat sauce, and cubed mozzarella cheese.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, water, or milk and egg. Pour the bread crumbs into a large plate. See note 4 for more information.
  • Wet your hands – this will make shaping the balls easier. Take about a tablespoon of rice and flatten into your cupped hand. Add a large teaspoonful of meat and cube of cheese.
  • Add a little more rice on top while moulding the edges of rice around the filling. Press together firmly with your other hand cupped over the top and form a ball. Make sure no filling shows. Add more rice if necessary.
  • Dip the rice ball into the flour mixture then roll in breadcrumbs pressing well.
  • Refrigerate your rice balls for about 30 minutes. 
  • Pour light flavored, olive oil into a saucepan or deep fryer (the oil should be at least 2 inches/5cm deep). Heat the oil over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes to obtain the correct temperature. Drop a cube of bread in and it should sizzle and turn golden in about 15 seconds.
  • Drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot.


  1. Carnaroli rice or other short grain rice that’s good for risotto or rice puddings will also work in this recipe.
  2. Use homemade or good quality store bought chicken broth or prepare a broth with hot water and bullion or stock cubes.
  3. Other herbs or spices like dried oregano, fresh basil, or a sprinkling of allspice can be used.
  4. If you are a return visitor to this recipe, you will note that this method is slightly different for coating the rice balls. You can coat the balls in flour, followed by beaten egg and milk, then dip in bread crumbs.
Tips for Success
  • Read through the whole recipe and plan. The meat sauce can be made 3 days in advance. The rice will need time to cook and cool completely before assembling the Italian Rice Balls.
  • Taste the meat sauce and rice and adjust the seasonings to suit your tastes.
  • Wet your hands before shaping the balls. This will help the rice not stick to your hands.
  • The number of balls this recipe makes will depend on how big you form them.
  • Heat the oil to the correct temperature.
  • Take care when frying. Don’t leave the hot oil unattended.
Nutritional content does not include oil for frying as this can depend on many factors.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 325kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 389mg | Potassium: 234mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 334IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 132mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

This updated recipe was first published on March 15, 2010.

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Recipe Rating


  1. What is the brand or link for the Italian arancini maker that you like to use that you mentioned in your article? Can’t wait to try your recipe. Thank you!

    1. Dorine, I like the original brand Arancinotto. It is made in Italy but available on Amazon worldwide. There are other brands that look similar but I can’t vouch for those. Reach out if you have any other questions… you’ll love these!!

  2. 5 stars
    I worked on this over the course of three days so it takes some work but it’s totally worth it. I made the arrancini for a round the world evening. It was a hit. They were delicious. The ragu was a really big hit. I served some along side so guests could use more. Everyone just loved them. Made the rice and ragu 2 days ahead which was a great tip because it made them easier to work with for assembly. I made the balls the next day, refrigerated them overnight and fried them the next morning. They sealed nicely and the interior was warm and the cheese melted. They sat in the oven on warm for an hour and a half or so and that was just fine. Delicious!

    1. Yes, these are definitely easier when you prepare the components in advance. I’m happy that those tips helped you! Each time you make them you’ll find it easier and easier. Thanks for the feedback.