Italian Rice Balls

These are a staple in every Italian Long Island family’s daily life. They’re in ever Long Island deli and they’re a part of traditional Italian cooking. I’ve made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas since I was a kid. My mother would set up a little assembly line of ingredients, and I’d do the work. I loved the job. Working with the rice was like playing with Silly Putty.

Serves: 15 to 18 rice balls
Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Arborio rice (risotto rice)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups grated or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 3 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 cups dried plain bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed firm whole-milk mozzarella cheese

Directions:

In medium pot, combine the rice, water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the rice cook for 12 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. When done, spread rice out on a baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula to move the rice around, allowing the steam to escape and the rice to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Add the egg and cheese mixture, parsley, basil and sun-dried tomatoes to the cooled rice. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate these ingredients. It will be very sticky. Put the bread crumbs in a medium bowl.

In a 4-quart pot, heat the vegetable oil to 350 F, verifying the temperature with a candy thermometer. Set up the sheet of rice next to the mozzarella cheese and bread crumbs. The kids will roll the rice balls, but Mom or Dad should handle the frying. Use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out the rice. Roll 1 scoop in wet hands to shape it into a ball. Push two cubes of mozzarella cheese into the center of the ball. Reshape the rice to close the ball around the cheese. Coat each ball with bread crumbs and set on a plate until ready to fry.

Fry 4 or 5 rice balls at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and set to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

Tip: Be careful not to buy the semisoft fresh mozzarella you often see in the store. Purchase firm mozzarella cheese in a block and cut it into cubes.