A popular street food all over Italy, arancini are deep-fried balls of rice, usually stuffed with meat or cheese. Originating in Sicily, their name literally means “little orange,” referring to their shape and golden-brown color. In Rome, they’re sometimes called suppli, meaning “surprise,” because of the little morsels hiding inside. They were invented as a way to use up leftover risotto from the night before, and every Italian family probably has its own recipe for them.
I’ve been making traditional savory arancini for years. Most of the time, I use risotto Milanese—a simple risotto perfumed with saffron—and stuff them with large cubes of mozzarella. When you take a bite, you get a satisfying crunch on the outside, followed by the soft, supple rice center, and then a burst of gooey melted cheese that you can stretch from your mouth like a telephone cord (which is why Romans also call them suppli al telefono). Since the savory versions are such a hit whenever I make them, I started wondering if a sweet version would be equally successful.
I imagined arancini that were something like chocolate-filled doughnuts. Instead of savory risotto, I’d use a sweet vanilla rice, similar to rice pudding. I wanted a gooey, oozy center of chocolate, but not just any chocolate. I wanted Nutella—that irresistible hazelnut chocolate spread that makes me want to sit on the floor in my pantry and spoon it into my mouth straight from the jar. I wanted them to be coated in cinnamon sugar—just like the doughnuts you buy from the bakery. I wanted them to be crispy and warm and sweet.
The result wasn’t just good, it was nirvana. That cinnamon-sugar crunch into sweet vanilla rice is heavenly, but it’s the molten Nutella center that will take you over the edge. It explodes into your mouth, coating your teeth with silky, hazelnut-y chocolate. But these are better than doughnuts because the rice gives it even more texture: they are crunchy, soft, chewy, and oozy all at once.
Nutella arancini are simple to make, but you need to start them the day before you want to serve them. The rice needs overnight refrigeration to get cold and sticky enough to form into balls. I also make the Nutella center the day before so it’s rock-hard frozen, which makes the spread easier to work with. Once that’s done, it’s just a matter of forming the balls and dredging them in breadcrumbs—a bit fiddly, but also fun. This is something your kids can help out with if you don’t mind a little mess in the kitchen.
This recipe makes around 36 arancini, which may sound like a lot, but I find the rice cooks best when working with this amount of it. Besides, it makes sense to make more than you (think you) need—the labor and time required to make 18 and 36 are practically the same. What’s more, they freeze really well; just layer them in a container, separating layers of arancini between sheets of parchment paper, and stash them away in the freezer for up to three months. The next time you have a craving for them, it’s as easy as defrosting and frying. Believe me when I say the only thing more amazing than these arancini is how quickly they get gobbled up.
Makes 36 arancini
4 cups water (divided; ½ cup for dredging station)
2 ½ cups Arborio rice
2 cups caster (or superfine) sugar
4 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
400 grams (14 oz) Nutella
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
4 cups neutral oil, such as vegetable, canola, or similar, for frying (use more or less as needed)
See the full recipe on Food52.
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