Rice balls, or arancini di riso, are such a versatile dish, especially during the holiday season. Serve them on your hot buffet spread as a side dish or as an appetizer at a cocktail party or sit-down dinner. I prefer to make them on the smaller side so they are easy to eat in just one bite, no fork required! You can even serve them with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. What’s nice about risotto, like any rice, is that it’s a blank canvas. You can dress it up or keep it simple; the sky is the limit with what you can add to your risotto creations. This version is fairly straightforward, using mushrooms and thyme, a favorite flavor combination of mine. It’s upscale enough for a holiday party, but not too fussy for a light lunch with the girls.
- Two cups dry arborio rice should yield about 6 cups of cooked risotto.
- Store the risotto in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Allowing the risotto to sit overnight in the fridge brings out the starch in the rice and helps the arancini come together and hold its shape when rolling into balls.
- While best served hot and right from the frying pan, you can certainly make these ahead of time and reheat them before serving. They can also be enjoyed at rom temperature. If reheating, I would suggest doing so in a 350 degree oven, not the microwave. The microwave will make them soggy — and nobody wants to eat a droopy rice ball! If making them the day before, store them in a container in the fridge until ready to reheat. Try not to crowd them in the container on top of each other; arranging them in a single layer is best so they keep their shape and don’t stick together.
- As for the size of the mushrooms, I would suggest selecting small mushrooms. If smaller ones aren’t available, you may want to give them a rough chop once sliced. For the risotto, it’s ok to have larger mushrooms. But for the rice balls, the larger slices won’t pack well into the ball when you roll them. Chop your mushrooms accordingly.
Gluten Free Mushroom-Thyme Risotto Balls
- For the risotto:
- 1 small-medium shallot, finely minced
- Olive oil to sautée shallot
- 16 ounces pre-washed, sliced white mushrooms
- Black pepper and crushed red pepper, to taste
- Pinch of Kosher or sea salt
- Fresh thyme leaves, also to taste, but I usually add a few stems worth
- 2 cups dry arborio rice
- Additional olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 48 ounces gluten free, unsalted chicken stock (I always use Kitchen Basics brand)
- For the risotto balls:
- 2-3 cups cooked, leftover risotto, preferably cold
- 1/2 cup gluten free panko, plus more for dredging the balls in later (I like to season my panko with a touch of truffle salt and pepper, but it's optional).
- 2 eggs, beaten, plus one additional egg to coat the formed balls in later
- Handful of grated cheese like pecorino or parmesan
- Canola or grape-seed oil for frying
- Step 1 Begin by sauteeing the mushrooms. Swirl a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a skillet. Add the shallot and allow to soften. Add in the mushrooms. Season with salt and both of the peppers, to taste.
- Step 2 Once mushrooms are close to done, add fresh thyme leaves, about 1 Tsp.
- Step 3 When mushrooms are done and their juices have evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside while you cook the arborio rice. (You want a small amount of the mushroom juices to remain, which will add flavor to the risotto.)
- Step 4 In a 5 quart stock pot, coat the bottom with olive oil and begin heating over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter and allow to melt into the oil. Then add 2 cups dry arborio rice.
- Step 5 Mix the dry rice into the hot oil/butter mixture and allow to toast in the oil for about two minutes. Finally, add the mushroom-shallot mixture and stir to combine with the rice.
- Step 6 In a separate pot, gently heat about 48 ounces (1 1/2 boxes worth) of gluten free, unsalted chicken broth (I usually always use Kitchen Basics). Begin ladling the hot broth into the risotto-mushroom mixture a few ladles full at a time. Cook the risotto over medium-low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Allow the rice to absorb the chicken broth before adding more broth to the pot. As you add the broth, the rice will absorb the liquid, making it tender.
- Step 7 Season with additional black and red pepper. I also like to add a pinch of truffle flavored Italian salt, but kosher or sea salt is perfectly fine, too.
- Step 8 Add in another 1-2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter. This richens up the broth and adds more depth to the rice. Feel free to add in additional thyme leaves, as well.
- Step 9 Taste the risotto to see if it’s tender. If not, continue adding ladles of hot broth. When the risotto is tender and all of the liquid has been absorbed, grate some parmesan or pecorino cheese into it and stir to combine.
- Step 10 To make the risotto balls:
- Step 11 Combine the leftover risotto with the beaten eggs, 1/2 cup gluten free panko and grated cheese. Using clean hands, combine all of the ingredients as you would when making meatballs. Form/roll the risotto mixture into balls. If serving these for lunch or as a side dish, you can make the balls slightly larger. But if serving as an appetizer, I prefer to make them small enough to eat in one or two bites without a fork!
- Step 12 Once the balls are formed, dip then in the beaten egg, then roll them in the panko.
- Step 13 In a skillet with sides, heat the canola oil until it reaches 350 degrees (a candy thermometer comes in handy here). If the oil isn’t hot enough, the balls will absorb too much oil and they won’t get crispy and golden.
- Step 14 Using a spider, gently turn the balls so they become golden brown all around. Remove them from the hot oil and place on a dish lined with paper towel.
- Step 15 Keep a close eye on the temperature of the oil and adjust as needed. You want the oil to stay right at 350 degrees.