Gli Arancini di Madaio

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Emma’s Arancini

Once you have the basics down, the beauty of arancini is that you can stuff them with just about any well-concentrated sauce, and you can use any sort of risotto-style rice. One year for Thanksgiving, for example, I made a brown-butter-sage brown rice risotto and stuffed it with mashed sweet potatoes.

Anyway, here’s is my mom’s recipe, as she wrote it for my sister while she was in college. (This is a key point due to some of the hilarious notations that were made, left in for posterity.)

Also note that many recipes call for cheese to be added to the stuffing (Montalbano’s use Bechamel, actually), but in my family we’ve never made it that way.


1 lb lean ground beef – ground round or what ever the leanest is
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 small yellow onion (about 1/3 cup finely chopped – no more or it will be too oniony)
2T olive oil

3 – 4 cups Arborio Rice (Italian short grain Risotto rice)
1 can low salt beef broth or stock
2T olive oil
¼ – 1/3 white wine
6-8 cups water
½ – ¾ unsalted stick butter (Ed note: I only use EVOO in mine, but this is the recipe as was given to me.)
About a cup Parmesan Cheese (you need to get good cheese – look for imported Parmesano Reggiano in a chunk and grate yourself  – or at least for imported already grated. Under no circumstances use canned Parm Cheese – you may was well not make them)
Salt and pepper to taste

Eggs for breading
Unseasoned Bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying (you need a whole bottle)


Saute chopped onion in fry pan over medium heat in about  2T olive oil until soft (don’t brown)
Add meat, breaking apart and cook until all pink is gone. Drain off any excess fat.
Add tomato paste and enough water (about 2-3 cans) to make a medium sauce.  You basically want enough water so that you can cook it down to concentrate the meat flavor. Cook on low heat stirring often until the sauce thickens. You should end up with thick meat sauce – looks more like ground meat held together by a little sauce – not like a spaghetti sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.


Dilute the beef broth with water to total 6 – 8 cups of liquid. Bring to a boil and keep hot. You will use this in the rice adding a little at a time. It needs to be hot when you add it to the rice so that the rice keeps cooking at the right temp when you add additional water.

Heat 2 T olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the rice and stir a minute or two to coat the grains with oil. Don’t brown. Add the wine and stir into the rice until absorbed (about a minute).

Now you will begin to add the both. Add enough water to cover the rice by about an inch or 2. Stir to combine – keep the heat low enough to have the water simmering in the uncovered pot but not boiling so hard that the rice starts to stick.  You need to watch it while it cooks and stir it often enough so the rice doesn’t stick to the pan. When most of the water is absorbed add more broth again to cover the rice 1-2 inches. Keep doing this until the rice is al dente (meaning not mushy it should still have a little bite to it.) After about the third or fourth addition of broth taste it to see how close it is to being done. You want to end up without excess broth (in other words you don’t want to add a ton of broth if the rice is almost done).  If worse comes to worse you can drain it. The rice should look creamy and have a little bite when done.

At this point you want to add the butter and cheese. I start with about a ½ stick of butter and 1 cup cheese or more. Add the butter first and stir till melted and then add the cheese. Add some salt and pepper and taste it to see if you want more.  Start with about a teaspoon of salt and work up – if you over season you’re screwed. Cool. (Ed note: overnight is best, although they can be made same day if you are in a hurry.)

To assemble: beat 3-4 eggs with a little water. Place bread crumbs on a plate or bowl.

You know how to assemble the rice balls. (Ed note: Put some rice in your hand to form the bottom of the ball. Make a dimple in the middle. Add about a spoonful of sauce. Cover with more rice. Form a ball.) You can make all of them and then dip and coat with crumbs after. You can bread them and then cook later – or cook them as soon as they are breaded.

For frying – use canola oil – I think the medium size bottle is about 2 1/2 qts. You need a deep 3 qt (minimum) saucepan. That size will be right for about the full bottle of oil. If you use a larger pot you may need more oil. You should have enough oil to cover the balls but there should be at least 2-3 inches at the top because the oil will bubble up when you put the balls in to cook.

Heat the oil – to test if it is hot enough put in a cube of bread – the oil should bubble right away and the cube should brown quickly. If you think it is ready try one ball – it should brown in about a minute? You want it to cook quick enough that it does not absorb too much oil but not have the oil so hot that it burns. Once you know the temp is right you can cook 2 at a time as long as the oil stays hot enough. It should always bubble up as soon as you add the new balls – otherwise give it a minute to get hot again. Be careful with the oil that it does not boil over or you could have a fire and also you can get burned by the hot oil. That is why it is key to have enough room at the top of the pot.

I know this sounds really complicated but you have done it before so I’m sure you’ll have a feel for it. Also I had to write everything down that normally I would just tell you. Call me when you are doing it if you have questions.

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