From Nonna's Kitchen: Nonna Gina’s Rice Balls

Growing up in an Italian home, I didn’t eat a lot of rice.  We preferred pasta and my mother served it regularly as our staple carbohydrate.  Once and a while, however, my mom would whip up a risotto and I would pout through dinner, pushing it to the edges of my plate hoping my father would think I had some.

Truth be told, I hate risotto.  It just doesn’t do it for me.  If I am going to eat something creamy and full of carbs, hand me a dish of cheesy polenta and I’m a happy girl.  The one positive to hating risotto though, is that my mother had plenty leftover to make rice balls with for us the next day.

My mom’s rice balls have a bit of a following.  Whenever I throw a party, she makes about 50 mini rice balls and I have to hide a few before people show up or else I don’t get to have one.  They are so good.  Golden brown and crispy on the outside and creamy, cheesy inside make for a killer combination.  So, we never really wait for her to make risotto any more.  We just whip it up whenever there is a rice ball request.

My mother learned this rice ball recipe from her sister Maria who still lives in Southern Italy.  This is how we eat them in the south.  In contrast, if you hail from Sicily, your rice balls are filled with sauce, ground meat, and peas.  So, point is, you can really fill them with whatever you choose, but if you want to make them like Nonna Gina, keep it simple.  A cube of fresh mozzarella is all you need for the perfect, cheesy filling.


Nonna Gina’s Rice Balls


Prep time:         Total time: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
4 cups Arborio rice
8 cups chicken broth or water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
I lb prosciutto, chopped fine
2 eggs, beaten
1 lb fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼ inch cubes
4 cups Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs
1 cup grated parmigiano cheese
4 cups vegetable oil

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large dutch oven.  Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, no color.  Add the rice and stir.  Add the broth/water and bring to a boil.
  2. Once water comes to a boil, mix to ensure no rice is stuck to the bottom of the pot.  Reduce to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove lid, all water should be gone and rice should be soft and creamy.  Mix in the finely diced prosciutto and the eggs. Transfer the rice to large baking sheet and spread it out to cool. 
  4. Once rice is cool enough to handle, using an ice cream scoop and create a rice ball.  Make an indentation in the middle and add a cube of cheese.  Cover the cheese with rice and reshape the rice into a perfect ball.
  5. Pour some room temperature water into a shallow bowl and breadcrumbs mixed with the parmigiano cheese in another bowl. 
  6. Using your hands, slightly wet the outside of the rice balls and then roll in the breadcrumbs.
  7. Heat the oil in a large pot to 350 degrees.  Drop 4 rice balls in and allow to cook until outside is golden brown.
  8. Transfer to a paper towel lined dish.  Best to eat at room temperature, if you can wait!

Buon Appetito!