Vegan arancini does the impossible. It makes leftovers every bit as good as the original dish.
These Italian rice balls are made by forming cold risotto into balls, rolling them in panko bread crumbs, and then cooking them in the air fryer or oven.
With a crisp exterior and warm, melty risotto interior, they’re endlessly dreamy. Serve as an appetizer or entrée.
Leftovers are convenient. They’re quick. But usually they don’t live up to the original in terms of texture.
It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in 30 Rock, regarding pizza…
Devon Banks: You know, revenge is a dish best served cold, Jack. Like sashimi, or pizza.
Jack Donaghy: You prefer cold pizza?
Devon Banks: The morning after? It’s the best.
Jack Donaghy: Better than hot pizza? That’s insane.
Devon Banks: You don’t tell me what kind of pizza to like!
I’ve got to agree with Jack that pizza is at its best when it’s fresh and hot… But there is a notable exception to the leftovers rule… Arancini.
What are arancini?
Arancini are Italian rice balls made with leftover risotto. This Sicilian street food is coated in breadcrumbs, and usually fried. That gives them a crisp outside. Then you bite through to melty risotto inside.
Between creamy vegan risotto and arancini, I would be hard pressed to decide which one I like best. But luckily, choosing is completely unnecessary!
First, you can enjoy creamy vegan risotto with mushrooms and seitan sausage. Then pop the leftovers into the refrigerator. A day or two later, roll the cold risotto into rice balls to enjoy them anew.
Arancini means “little orange” in Italian. It’s a reference to their size, shape, and color. But the arancini I made in this recipe are closer to the size of tangerines. (Other shapes of arancini are popular depending on the region.)
Usually arancini is made by forming a rice ball with leftover risotto, and then tucking mozzarella cheese into the middle. Then the rice ball is rolled in flour, dunked into egg wash, and finished with breadcrumbs.
How to veganize arancini
Since this is a vegan arancini recipe, obviously I’ve made a few changes.First, my risotto recipe already includes mushrooms and bites of seitan sausage. So adding non-dairy mozzarella seemed an unnecessary addition. However, if you feel like adding some vegan cheese, go for it!
Second, I skipped the flour and egg steps altogether. Cashew cream is sometimes used as an alternative to egg wash in recipes that involve a fried coating. It’s thick & sticky, making it easy to pick up breadcrumbs afterwards.
Since my risotto recipe already involves adding cashew cream at the end, that step is done. So the risotto is sticky enough without adding another step.
How to make this recipe
Start with cold risotto that has been in the refrigerator for a day or two. The risotto will have thickened and condensed in the refrigerator.
Use your hands to make a ball of risotto, about the size of a tangerine. A ¼ cup measure will make just the right size.
If any of your mushroom slices are too large to stick on the outside, you have a couple of options. Push them to the inside of the ball and stick more rice on the outside. Or cut down any overly large mushrooms into smaller pieces. For the most part, this shouldn’t be a problem, though.
One full batch of creamy vegan risotto will make about 12 rice balls. Adjust accordingly, depending on how much leftover risotto you’re using.
Next, roll the balls in panko bread crumbs that have been seasoned with granulated onion, salt, and pepper. You can add more seasonings if you like, but keep in mind that the risotto already includes thyme and rosemary.
Now it’s time to cook the arancini! Traditionally, they would be fried in oil. Today we’re going to cook them in the oven or air fryer.
Cook them in the air fryer
To air fry the arancini, put the balls in a single layer in the air fryer basket. You don’t want the basket to be overly full, because they won’t brown as nicely.
In a 3.7 quart air fryer basket, about 6 arancini fit perfectly. So you’ll need to cook in batches.
Spray the risotto balls with oil. Then air fry at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. The arancini will start browning at about 8 minutes. They will just keep getting more golden.
Keep your eye on them, so that they don’t burn. But obviously, browner is better. So don’t pull them out too early either.
While the arancini is air frying, don’t move them. They brown nicer and the shape is better if they stay in one place, as opposed to rotating them.
Or bake in the oven
To bake the arancini, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line the rice balls across the sheet. Spray with oil. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.
While they are cooking, don’t move the arancini. They brown nicer and the shape is better if they stay in one place, as opposed to rotating them.
Be warned: The risotto will be molten hot on the inside. But they are so gooey and perfect, it’s hard to wait to take a bite. Serve with warmed marinara for dipping.
This arancini is also delicious stuffed with vegan meatballs. For this option, you can leave out the seitan in the vegan risotto recipe, if you like. (Feel free to add a few more mushrooms in the seitan’s absence.)
Then once the risotto is cold, form a ball in your hand. Push a divot into a ball using your finger, then stuff it with a thawed vegan meatball. Form the rest of the rice around it into a ball.
Gardein meatballs work particularly well. They are a little large. So you can pinch the balls in half and form them into balls. (That means for 12 rice balls, you’ll need 6 vegan meatballs.)
Remember to thaw the meatballs ahead of time, so that they will be malleable and won’t add extra moisture to your arancini.
Can arancini be made in advance?
Absolutely! Simply form the cold risotto into balls, and roll the balls in seasoned bread crumbs, as directed in the recipe.
Then put the arancini in a covered container and refrigerate. (A standard covered lasagna dish works perfectly.)
Once you are ready to cook them, simply follow the baking instructions as written below.
This year, I prepared arancini balls on Christmas Eve, and transported them in an insulated carrier to my Christmas destination. I refrigerated them, and then baked them on Christmas Day. They came out perfectly.
(Here are some more main course ideas for your vegan Christmas dinner.)
Can I freeze them & reheat in the air fryer?
Yes! If you’d prefer to save your arancini for later, here’s what to do.
Form the risotto rice balls, and coat them in panko breadcrumbs. Don’t cook them.
Instead, move them to a glass freezer-safe dish. (A large Pyrex works well for this.)
Make sure the arancini aren’t touching, so that they won’t freeze together. Cover and freeze.
When you’re ready to re-heat, remove the arancini from the freezer, and put the rice balls into the air fryer. Air fry at 400 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes.
Vegan arancini (Italian rice balls) – in the air fryer or oven
- If you plan to bake the arancini in the oven, preheat to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you're planning to use the air fryer, skip this step.
- Form a rice ball in your hands using about ¼ cup of cold vegan risotto. Keep forming balls until you have finished all of the risotto. (One full batch of creamy vegan risotto will make about 12 rice balls.)
- On a plate, combine panko bread crumbs with granulated onion, salt, and pepper. Roll each ball in the bread crumb mixture, until completely coated.
- TO COOK IN THE OVEN: Evenly spread the balls across the parchment paper covered baking sheet. Spray the arancini with oil. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until they are nutty brown. (Do not turn them. They brown better if they are left on their own.) Remove and serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
- TO COOK IN THE AIR FRYER: Put a few rice balls into the air fryer. Do not overfill. If the basket is too full, they won't brown as nicely. (A 3.7 quart air fryer basket will hold about 6 rice balls.) So you'll need to work in batches. Spray the arancini with oil. Air fry at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. (Do not turn the rice balls. They brown better if they are left on their own.) Continue air frying the remaining balls until finished. Keep in mind that as the air fryer heats up, the subsequent batches may cook in less time. So keep an eye on them in the final minutes & remove early, if necessary.