Sequels usually fail to recapture the original magic of a book or movie. And when it comes to dinner, leftovers languish in the refrigerator or end up as a sad desk lunch. But on a rare occasion, the second take is the reason to try it in the first place. Case in point? Risotto balls.
There is a lot to love about a pan-fried two-bite morsel of rice and cheese, but the best thing is breaking through a thin, crispy coating to reveal ultra-rich and creamy rice and a pocket of gooey cheese. Here's how to make these all yours.
What Are Risotto Balls?
Risotto balls go by many names in Italy, from arancini in Sicily to supplì al telefono in Rome. Arancini means little oranges, a nod to their rotund and golden appearance, while supplì al telefono refers to the long telephone cord-like strings of molten mozzarella that emerge when you bite into the balls. Regardless of what you call them, they are a clever and indulgent way to use up leftover risotto rice.
Key Steps for Making Risotto Balls
- Separate the eggs. Whether you do this with your hands or by alternating between sides of the eggshell, you need to separate the yolks from the whites of the egg. Mix two of the yolks into the risotto, and reserve the other two for another use (might I suggest raspberry lemon curd?). The whites are for coating the risotto balls. Simply whisk them until loose and frothy.
- Shape and stuff the balls. Scoop leftover risotto into 2-tablespoon portions and roll into balls, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Here's where the surprise comes in: Tuck a small cube of part-skim mozzarella into the center and pinch to completely cover it with the rice. It will be tough, but resist the temptation to put a large cube of cheese in the center. The cheese needs to be completely surrounded by rice so that it does not explode out of the ball. The goal is melty, gooey cheese mingling with creamy rice, not sizzling cheese in the cooking oil.
- Dredge the balls. Once formed, it is time to coat the risotto rounds for frying to a rich mahogany brown color with crunchy crust. Roll the balls of rice in flour and then in the whisked egg whites. The final layer is fine, dried breadcrumbs. While fresh breadcrumbs or panko have become my go-tos for breading, the canister of regular dried and finely ground crumbs is what you want here. They completely coat the risotto balls in a thin layer that fries up into a rich, crispy exterior.
- Pan-fry the balls. Heat about 2 cups of oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet; this is a good time to use a cast iron skillet. The oil is hot enough when a sprinkling of breadcrumbs dropped in the oil sizzle immediately. Fry about 8 balls at a time, but try not to overcrowd the pan, as that causes the oil temperature to drop dramatically. The oil should come up about halfway on the balls. This means that you will only need to turn them one time and maintain their shape.
Serving Risotto Balls
Once the balls come out of the hot oil, drain on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. While you want to serve them hot for that glorious cheese pull, they do need to cool for a couple of minutes so they do not burn your mouth! Spoon some marinara sauce into the bottom of a serving dish and pile a few balls into the center. Dust with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.
If you make the balls in advance, wait to plate them in the sauce until just before serving, as the crisp crust softens in the sauce.
How To Make Easy Leftover Risotto Balls (Arancini)
Makes about 30 risotto balls
What You Need
3 to 4 cups
cold leftover risotto
fine dried breadcrumbs
part-skim mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
vegetable oil, for frying
For serving: Fnely grated Parmesan cheese, marinara sauce
Wooden spoon or silicone spatula
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Large stainless steel or cast iron skillet
Separate the eggs. Separate the eggs. Whisk the whites in a small bowl until fluid and frothy. Place 2 of the egg yolks into a mixing bowl with the leftover risotto and stir until completely incorporated. Save the remaining 2 yolks for another use or discard.
Set up a dredging station. Place the flour and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Place the dried breadcrumbs into another bowl. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels; set aside.
Shape and stuff the balls. Place a piece of parchment on a work surface. Divide the risotto into 2-tablespoon portions and form into 1 1/2-inch balls. Tuck a cube of mozzarella into the center of the risotto ball, making sure to completely surround the cheese with rice. Place the ball onto the parchment and repeat with the remaining risotto and cheese cubes.
Dredge the balls. Working with one at a time, roll a risotto ball in the flour until coated. Transfer to the egg whites and turn to coat. Place in the breadcrumbs, tossing until coated in a thin layer. Cup your hand and lightly toss the breaded risotto ball until it forms a smooth, round ball. Return the ball to the parchment and continue to coat the remaining risotto balls in the breading mixture.
Heat the oil. Pour the oil into a large skillet so that there is a depth of 1/2 inch (for a 10-inch skillet you’ll need 2 cups of oil). Heat over medium-high heat until a sprinkling of breadcrumbs sizzles immediately, about 350°F.
Pan-fry the balls. Add 8 of the risotto balls to the hot oil (do not overcrowd the pan). Fry until deeply golden-brown on the bottom side, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the balls and cook until golden-brown all over, 2 to 3 minutes more, adjusting the heat if necessary.
Drain and serve the balls. Transfer the risotto balls to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and cool for 2 minutes. Continue frying the rest of the balls, then serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and marinara sauce.
Make ahead: Balls can be formed and breaded up to 1 day in advance. Store in the refrigerator. You may need to add an extra 1 to 2 minutes to the frying time.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days. Recrisp in a 400°F oven for about 8 minutes.