Arancine (saffron rice balls)

The name Arancina probably comes from an ancient, Arab saffron-scented rice dish, enriched with vegetables and small pieces of meat. In the past, this dish was served on a tray placed in the centre of the table from which  every table companion took his portion with his hands. Later on, the Arabs, probably to facilitate its transportation, turned this dish into single portions, by breading  and frying the rice in order to make it more compact.

The arancina filling is traditionally prepared with ragu or with butter, béchamel and shredded ham. In more recent times the imagination of chefs has created dozens of filling variations, ranging from smoked salmon, to pistachio sauce, up to the eggplant of the famous arancina alla Norma or the one with ricotta, mint and piacentino cheese.

In Palermo they have a round shape and they are named arancina (small orange)  because of their shape and size, similar to an orange. In eastern Sicily, on the other hand, they generally have a conical shape and are called arancini. The funny quarrel between those who name it “arancina” and those who instead say “arancino” divides Western and Eastern Sicily and it is often a nice topic of conversation while tasting one of them.

Rice Arancine with ragu 

for 20-22 arancine


  • 1.3 kg rice (special rice for arancine and flans can now be purchased in the shops)
  • Approximately three litres beef or vegetable stock.
  • 100 g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 saffron powder sachets
  • 200 g caciocavallo cheese chopped into chunks
  • Flour
  • 2  egg whites and 1 yolk
  • Breadcrumb
  • Olive oil

Method (for the rice):

Prepare the stock then add the saffron. Fry the onion with the butter but don’t let it brown. Add the rice and the hot stock and then stir. Cook until the rice is done, turn off the heat. Transfer it onto a large plate and let it cool. Cook the risotto about 12 hours before making the arancine.

Ingredients (for the meat ragu):

  • 400 g minced beef
  • 100 g of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 200 g peas
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • half a glass white wine

Method (for the meat ragu):

Brown the onions and add the minced beef. Pour the wine and reduce. Season with salt and pepper and then add the tomato paste with a few water. Cook the peas aside and add them to the cold meat ragu.

Method (for the arancine):

Place a tablespoon of rice into the palm of your hand, flatten into a disk. Add a tablespoon of ragu then a chunk of caciocavallo cheese. Place another tablespoon of rice over the filling and form rice around it to encase it completely; press gently to form a ball. Roll ball in flour, then in the egg and finally in bread crumbs until evenly coated. Once prepared, fry the arancine in abundant  hot oil, until golden.

Rice butter Arancine 

A variant of the traditional arancina, is the arancina “with butter” (that has a conical shape). Its preparation is the same. What is different is its filling:

  • 300 g shredded ham
  • 400 gr smooth cheese in chunks
  • 500 g very thick béchamel sauce enriched with nutmeg

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Duration of preparation