These baked pumpkin arancini are so flavorful and comforting with a gooey cheese center. A great appetizer or snack perfect for a festive party, game day and more.
October is well and truly in flow which means, here in the US at least, pumpkin season is as well. For many, that seems to more mean ‘pumpkin spice’ everything and anything and even if pumpkin itself is used, it’s often for sweet goods (not that they are bad, of course, like chocolate chip and pumpkin empanadas and healthy pumpkin scones). However pumpkin can also be enjoyed in many savory dishes as well, like these delicious baked pumpkin arancini.
What are arancini?
Arancini are Sicilian balls of risotto usually filled with mozzarella and coated with crisp breadcrumbs. Traditionally they are deep fried – it’s a street food so not so surprising – but here they are baked to be that bit healthier (and I think easier as well). Rather than a plain risotto, I have made a pumpkin version which is smooth and delicious. It’s worth making a decent sized batch and enjoying it one day as a regular risotto then making the rest into arancini the next day.
Arancini are often enjoyed with marinara sauce as an appetizer/snack, and these would be great as part of a game day, Halloween or other festive spread – press little stems of sage, thyme or rosemary in the top (as above) to make them look more like mini-pumpkins to be even more in the spirit!
They also work as part of a main meal – we had them alongside lamb chops for dinner and they were delicious. My toddler was a fan too and it’s not hard to see why – soft with a slightly crunchy outside, tasty, cheesy, what’s not to like? And a bonus for me, sneaking in a bit of vegetables with the pumpkin in there too.
Tips to make arancini less work!
While it might seem like these take quite a while to prepare, as I say, if you make enough to have it both as a regular risotto and some leftover for the arancini, it doesn’t seem bad and you get two meals for the same work. Plus in any event, you can split the work up into chunks as you can make the base risotto a few hours or a day ahead.
You can also chill the risotto balls after the initial filling and just do the breading before you bake them – it’s worth leaving this to just before you cook them to save the breadcrumbs potentially getting soggy from the egg rather than crisping up. I also kept some of the filled arancini in the fridge for a couple days to bread and bake another time and they were just as good then.
The arancini are pretty filling between the risotto itself and with the gooey mozzarella inside but they are still pretty addictive and it’s all too tempting to come back for more. They have that comfort factor between the gooey cheese and the pumpkin perfect for this time of year, and the touch of nutmeg adds to the fall flavoring (although feel free to miss it out if you are not a fan of nutmeg). They make for a delicious appetizer, side or snack and went down well with everyone in our house. So find an excuse to make them. Then maybe make them again.
Baked pumpkin arancini (risotto balls)
For pumpkin risotto
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic or 1 large
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 1/4 cup white wine 60ml, or vermouth
- 3 cups light stock 720ml, chicken/veg
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg optional
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree canned or fresh using roasted, pureed pumpkin
- 1/2 cup parmesan finely grated
To form arancini
- 8 oz mozzarella 225g
- 2 eggs or 3, as needed
- 1/2 cup flour approx
- 1 cup fine breadcrumbs approx
For risotto (ahead of time)
- Dice the onion fairly small and crush or finely chop the garlic.
- Put a pan on a medium heat and add the butter to the pan. Soften the onion in the butter for 2-3 mins, add garlic, cook another 2-3 mins until onion starting to brown slightly but stir regularly so it doesn't burn.
- Add the rice and cook briefly to ensure well coated by the butter. Then add the wine/vermouth and stir as the liquid is absorbed.
- Add the stock a bit at a time so that you cover the rice as you top it up (around ½ to 1 cup at a time), adding more as the last is absorbed. Season with a little salt and pepper. Stir now and again as the rice cooks - I generally only stir as liquid is absorbed initially but then a little more towards the end when it tends to stick to the bottom more. In all it takes around 20mins.
- Once all the stock is absorbed, check rice is cooked (if not then add a little more stock) then add the nutmeg, pumpkin puree and parmesan. Remove from heat, ensure the cheese and pumpkin are mixed through and leave to cool (you can speed up in fridge if needed). Up to hear can be done a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.
To form arancini
- When ready to form arancini, preheat the oven to 375F/190C.
- Dice the mozzarella into small cubes, around 1/3in/1cm across.
- Take slightly heaped tablespoonfuls of the rice mixture and flatten it in your hand then place a piece of mozzarella in the middle and fold the rice around the cheese, ensuring there are no gaps. Roll slightly in your hand to help form a smooth joined-up outside. This can be done a few hours ahead as well and refrigerated.
- Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl, and place the flour and breadcrumbs in two more bowls - it can be easier to do part at a time and top up as you go.
- Roll each rice ball in the flour, gently shake to remove excess flour, then roll in the egg so that it is coated, allow excess to drip off, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat until all the arancini are coated.
- Place the arancini on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for approx 8-10min until the breadcrumbs are lightly crisp and just starting to brown.
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