After moving to San Diego from New York, I was deeply homesick for my parents and the big Italian family I had left behind. To placate my sadness I landed a barista job in the coffee bar of an Italian cafe where the Sicilian cooks regularly fed me arancini for breakfast. The tiny stuffed rice balls became a comfort food favorite that always reminded me of my uncle John’s (who, to this day, makes the best Italian food I’ve ever had).
This gluten-free arancini recipe is inspired by him. Quite the mission to make, it requires about two hours of time to prepare, yet it’s well-worth the time investment. Meditative if making alone or fun with a friend over a glass of wine — my six-year-old even likes to help with the mixing and rolling, so recruit kids if they’re patient!
Traditionally, arancini are served with a side of red marinara sauce, but I like to health-them-up with my magic mushroom ragu. Crimini mushrooms are a flavorful and versatile anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer food high in the antioxidant conjugated linolenic acid (commonly referred to as CLA), and are high in B vitamins, even helping to repair a leaky gut because of their selenium and copper content.
If you ask Uncle John how to make arancini he’ll say, “Hon, use a little of this, and a little of that.” For you at home though, I’ve conveniently noted all ingredient amounts.
1½ cups Risotto Rice
1 cup Pecorino Romano or Caciocavallo Cheese
1⅓ cups Sweet Shelled Peas
3-4 Full Fat Raw Butter or Full Fat Salted Organic Butter
2 tablespoons EVOO (for filling)
Bottle of EVOO (for frying)
½ Onion, chopped
2 tablespoons Dry or Zesty White Wine (try Alessandro Viola Note di Bianco 2017)
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
6 ounces Buffalo Mozzarella, cut into small cubes
2 Pastured Eggs
1¾ cups Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs
For the Filling:
1 | Cook the rice in a large pan of salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes, until al dente. Drain and transfer to a bowl. Stir in Pecorino Romano or Caciocavallo.
2 | Blanch the peas in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain, and set aside. In a large pan, melt the butter and olive oil together, add onions, and cook over low heat until soft (for about 5 minutes).
3 | Add white wine and raise the heat to medium. Cook until the alcohol burns off and add tomato paste, adding a little water if too thick. Season to taste with pink salt and pepper, cover, and allow to simmer for another 45 minutes.
4 | After 45 minutes, add the peas, stir, and re-cover, allowing to simmer for another 10 minutes.
For the Arancini Rice Balls (Croquettes):
1 | In the palm of your less dominant hand, take a little rice and shape into the size of a mandarin orange with your dominant hand. Create a small hollow in the center.
2 | Fill hollow with a teaspoon of pea and tomato sauce with one cube of mozzarella. Cover the filling with rice and shape into a circle (keeping each about the size of a mandarin orange).
3 | Repeat this until all the rice and filling have been shaped.
4 | Mix together 2 eggs. In a large flat dish, pour a layer of breadcrumbs. Dip and coat rice balls in the egg, roll in breadcrumbs, and set aside. (You can prepare half of the mixture, fry and then prepare the rest quickly while the first batch is frying, or you can dip and coat all at once, then fry in two batches.)
5 | If frying traditionally: In a deep fryer or tall stock pot, add 2-3” of olive oil. Prepare a large dish lined with food-safe towels or paper towels. Heat oil to about 350F in a deep fryer. Add arancini to the oil in batches and cook until they are golden brown. Transfer arancini to a warming pan or hold in the oven at 250F.
*Note: Most people don’t fry in olive oil, but the Sicilians do! Open a window before you drop in arancini since the pan will likely smoke a bit and be sure you are wearing a kitchen apron and long sleeves. Deep-frying is easy… just don’t walk away from your pan! If it gets too smoky, reduce your heat a touch.
If air-frying: Set your air-fryer according to your appliance’s settings. Once the batch is done, either place in a warming dish or hold in the oven at 250F.
MUSHROOM RAGU INGREDIENTS
¼ cup Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, chopped
¼ Onion, chopped
½ pound Cremini Mushroom washed, dried, and finely chopped
5 ounces Dry Organic White Wine
½ tablespoon Oregano, dried
½ tablespoon Thyme, dried
1 teaspoon Crushed Black Pepper
Pink Salt, to taste
MUSHROOM RAGU ASSEMBLY
1 | In a non-coated saute pan, heat oil over low-medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute for several minutes, until reduced. As the garlic and onion are reducing, add mushrooms, sauteing for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat, add wine, combine ingredients well, and return to medium heat.
2 | Add oregano, thyme, pepper, and salt to taste, continuing to saute. Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue cooking for 20 more minutes.
3 | Once the arancini are fully cooked, serve with mushroom ragu on the side or serve three per guest with sauce drizzled over the top.
Christine Dionese, co-founder of flavor ID is an integrative, epigenetic health and food therapy specialist, as well as a wellness, lifestyle, and food journalist. She has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. Christine lives, works, and plays with her family in Southern California.
Photo by: Angela Garzon at @createwithgusto.