Arancini are deep fried cheese stuffed rice balls, made popular in Italy as a street food. They’re often stuffed with meat, green peas and cheese, and enjoyed while strolling through the streets. Their chewy inside and crispy outside makes them the perfect indulgent snack food.
But you don’t have to travel to Italy just to enjoy arancini. They’re easy to prepare at home, and this way you can add whatever fillings you like. They make the perfect party snack, potluck fare or dinner appetizer.
While the street food arancini are deep fried, making them at home means you can cook them however you want. I like to make a healthier version using the air fryer and transforming deep fried recipes into air fryer recipes. Air fryer arancini still has all the wonderful crispiness of the street food version, but guilt-free.
The History of Arancini
Arancini are thought to have been developed in Catania, a city in eastern Sicily. The eastern Sicilian version of arancini is notable for its cone shape. This cone shape is thought to be inspired by the nearby Mount Etna.
In Palermo and western Sicily, they have a round version of arancini called arancine. Some argue this version came first. So, there is certainly some debate about which city is the true birthplace of arancini.
According to Italy Magazine, rice balls actually made their way to Italy during the Arab conquest in the 9th century. (1) Historical accounts describe how rice was often rolled into balls and eaten with saffron.
The fried arancini we know only began to appear in cookbooks around the 19th century. While it was likely they were eaten long before then, they probably weren’t invented in the 9th century.
Easy Tips for the Best Air Fryer Arancini
If you’ve never made arancini rice balls from scratch before, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Use leftover rice. Arancini is a great way to use up your leftover rice. When the rice is completely cooled, it’s actually easier to shape into balls.
- Make them with Italian rice. Long-grain rice like basmati don’t have enough starch to hold together in a ball. Use a starchy Italian risotto rice like arborio rice, vialone nano or carnaroli.
- Add bread crumbs. Regular bread crumbs or panko will help your arancini stay together while you cook them. A bread crumb coating also makes the arancini super crispy when you air fry them.
- Chill the arancini before cooking. Another trick to keep the arancini from falling apart is to chill them in the fridge or freezer beforehand. This allows the Italian rice balls to firm up, and helps them keep their shape while they air fry.
- Season your ingredients. The key to flavorful air fryer arancini is to season them at every stage. I add salt and pepper to the breadcrumb mixture if it’s unseasoned. You can also add seasoning like garlic powder, chili flakes and italian seasoning to boost the flavors.
Air Fryer Arancini Recipe
- Prep Time40 min
- Cook Time10 min
- Total Time1 hr 35 min
- Servings20 arancini
Chilling: 20 min
- Boil Water
Bring a large pot filled with 10 cups of salted water to a boil.
- Sauté Onions
Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and diced onions. Cook the onions until they’re translucent.
- Cook Rice
With the onions still in the pan, add your rice. Let the rice toast for 5 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. I like to toast the rice beforehand because it helps give it more flavor.
Ladle 1 cup of boiled water into the saucepan. Stir the rice until the water has been absorbed. Keep the water at a constant boil.
Repeat this step until the entire pot of water has been added. At this point, your rice should be cooked al dente.
- Stir In Ingredients
Add the lemon zest, butter cubes and parmesan cheese to the rice. Mix well until all the ingredients are incorporated. I like to season at this point, so give your mixture a taste to see if it needs salt.
- Chill Mixture in the Fridge
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread your rice mixture onto it. This will help the rice cool down faster. I recommend putting the baking tray in the fridge or freezer to help speed up the process.
- Shape the Rice Balls
Once cooled, shape the rice mixture into 4 ounce balls using your hands. Place a cube of mozzarella cheese and 1 pea in the center of every rice ball.
- Coat in Breading
Separate the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs into 3 different bowls.
First coat the risotto balls in flour, followed by egg, then breadcrumbs. Place breaded balls onto a baking tray. Repeat these steps until all the arancini balls have been breaded.
- Air Fry the Arancini
Preheat your air fryer to 400°F. To keep the arancini rice balls from sticking, I always spread the basket with vegetable oil.
Cook the arancini balls for 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Make sure you don’t crowd the air fryer basket. These arancini are best cooked in small batches.
Grate some fresh parmesan over your arancini and serve with marinara dipping tomato sauce.
Delicious Arancini Variations
I love making air fryer arancini balls because you can add such a variety of different ingredients. Typically arancini is some mixture of meat, mozzarella cheese and peas, but the choices are endless.
Some love to play with fillings such as meat sauce, veggies or marinara.
Some popular modern variations include arancini mixed with saffron. Vegetable stuffed arancini is also becoming popular as a vegetarian option. Quinoa arancini is another healthier option, using quinoa in place of rice.
Traditional Italian Variations
If you travel to Italy, be sure to try some of these popular Italian variations of arancini:
- Arancini al pistacchio: This version originates from the Catania region of Italy. The fillings include cream, béchamel sauce and pistachios. The pistachios for this version are grown at the base of Mt. Etna.
- Arancini al burro: This version includes mozzarella, béchamel sauce and either ham or prosciutto. The word “burro” means butter, and refers to when butter used to be added inside to keep the rice moist.
- Arancini al cioccolato: As you might guess from the name, these arancini are filled with chocolate sauce! This dessert version of arancini is made with dark chocolate, vanilla, butter, cinnamon and lemon zest.
- Arancini al ragu: This hearty version is stuffed with ragu and cheese. The ragu is made from ground beef, tomatoes, onions, carrots and celery.
- Arancini alla Norma: This version is based on the pasta dish “pasta alla Norma”. The filling includes tomato basil sauce, ricotta cheese and eggplant.
Storing and Freezing Air Fryer Arancini Balls
Storing Air Fryer Arancini In the Fridge
You can store air fryer arancini in a resealable container in the fridge for about 2-5 days. After this point, the arancini will start to dry out.
Storing Air Fryer Arancini In the Freezer
The best way to store air fryer arancini is in the freezer. Freezing them seals in the flavor and the moisture.
If you’re freezing arancini straight after cooking, allow them to cool thoroughly. Place the air fryer arancini on a tray and cover with saran wrap. Leave the tray in the freezer until the air fryer rice balls are frozen solid.
Once your arancini are frozen completely, you can remove the tray from the freezer. Transfer the arancini to a freezer bag, and make sure you release all the air from the bag. Stored like this, arancini will keep in your freezer for about 3 months.
Reheating Air Fryer Arancini
Air fryer arancini is one of those foods that is best served fresh. They’re more crispy straight from the air fryer, and the filling is more moist.
That being said, arancini balls can be reheated successfully. To reheat from frozen, bake the arancini balls in the oven at 400°F for about 10-15 minutes. This will give the outside its crispiness, and ensure the inside is hot and gooey.
- 17.4g Fat
- 22.4g Carbs