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Super Party Recipe: Italian Rice Balls with Marinara Sauce

I have to tell the story of this recipe. My cast mate, Michele Ragussis from Food Network Star made this for us one night for dinner when we were working on the show... and then I got a chance to make it on the show a few days later. She gave me her blessing:) Mine's a bit different than hers AND hers has been perfected from her mom Phyllis' recipe... sooo good!!

These are the perfect party food. If  you just use ground beef they are inexpensive to make, you can easily double the recipe and you can even make them in advance and freeze them- just thaw and fry just before guests arrive. You will love these! Everyone raved about them during our Food Court Challange on the show. I even had a marriage proposal and one Italian guy said my marinara was better than his mother's! These are cheesy and delicious. Try them and let me know!

Italian Rice Balls (Arancini)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced small

5cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 ½ cups tomato sauce

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese grated

2 cups cooked and cooled Arborio rice (cooked until just done, not overcooked)

5 eggs

3 cups breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning

Canola oil for frying

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Marinara Sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)

Special equipment: #10 (small-medium) ice cream scoop


Cook the rice according to package directions but you want the rice to be sticky so I cook a bit longer than I should and don't add butter or olive oil to the water. You don't want it to be mushy. Set aside.  

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for 2 minutes until softened. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up large pieces as it cooks. Strain off excess fat from the pan. Add parsley and cook 3 minutes. Add thyme, oregano, and pepper, and salt, cayenne, red pepper flakes. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Keep in mind that rice and cheese contain salt so be careful not to over salt the meat mixture. Let the meat mixture cool a bit. Add the tomato sauce. Combine rice with cheese but be careful not to mash the rice. Add the rice mixture to meat mixture and stir gently to combine. Check the seasoning. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use ice cream scoop to shape the balls so they are a consistent size, then hand roll the balls as tightly as you can.

Pour enough canola oil into a deep skillet or Dutch oven to reach 5”. Heat oil over medium heat to 350-degrees.Use a thermometer to check the oil temperature.

Whisk eggs in a small baking dish. Place breadcrumbs in another baking dish. Roll rice balls lightly in the eggs then immediately roll in breadcrumbs to form a coating. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs. Place them on the baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fry.

To fry:

Carefully drop rice balls into the hot oil a few at a time, taking care not to overcrowd and lower the oil temperature. Cook until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes per batch. Bring oil back up to 350-degrees before cooking each batch. Drain rice balls on paper towels before serving.

Serve with homemade or store-bought marinara for dipping. Garnish with the basil leaves.

Me and Justin frying it up on FNS 2012Marinara Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 large cans (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, including liquid

1 cup fresh basil leaves

½ cup fresh thyme leaves

½ cup fresh oregano leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Use some of the liquid from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, and then add the remaining ingredients. Use an immersion blender to puree, taking care to leave the tomatoes slightly chunky. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can add everything to a blender or food processor)

Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning on the bottom. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour or longer so that the marinara thickens as some of the liquid cooks out. Check seasoning prior to serving. Add salt as necessary.


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