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Ultimate Crispy Risotto Balls with Butternut, Crispy Sage and Aioli

Arancini, or crispy risotto balls, what could be more delicious? These cheesy Sicilian croquettes with aioli are perfect for a casual starter!

risotto balls

Cheesy arancini, who can resist them! These crispy Italian risotto balls are my all-time favourite. When I am private cheffing they are my go-to choice for my canapé menus. Whenever I make risotto I always double up with the intention of chilling hard the next evening; a plate of arancini piled high, an extra large dollop of Sriracha mayo on the side and the latest season of Brooklyn 99 tuned in on Netflix.

An authentic Sicilian recipe

I was lucky enough to spend 4 weeks sailing around the Sicilian islands this year. Sicily is the traditional home of arancini, and you can buy the crispy risotto balls off the street just about anywhere. Sadly the street food arancini can tend to hang around for a while before being bought. The rice goes tacky, the cheese rubbery and the ubiquitous bread crumb coating goes soggy, so they tend to be hit or miss. This proved a bit of a bummer, until I happened to meet Maria the owner of a cafe in Lipari, a cute seaside town with cobbled streets and charming alleys overflowing with hanging flowers. Her arancini were the best I’ve tasted and she kindly allowed me to watch her make a new batch to improve on my technique. 

Fit for a vegan Christmas Feast

As these are always such a crowd pleaser it made perfect sense to include them as part of my snack platter starter for my Inclusive Christmas Feast recipes. Some of you may remember from previous posts, my vision for this season was to showcase a Christmas spread that would appeal to everyone. It’s the time of year for family and togetherness after all. So get ready for a seasonal, earth friendly, sometimes vegan, feast of simple, time savvy recipes for the whole family to gather around.

The challenge here was to adapt one of my all-time favourite recipes to vegan. Surprisingly that wasn’t a stretch, given all the amazing vegan alternatives that have been appearing on our shelves. So vegans, simply follow the recipe and add your vegan alternatives in when called for. This recipe is a little more complicated but 110% worth all the effort. The risotto can be made 3-4 days before, and the arancini assembled on the day.

risotto balls with butternut

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this vegan?

Absolutely! Make sure to use vegan wine, mayo and dairy-free vegan cheese for the arancini of your dreams!


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easy arancini crispy risotto balls recipe

Ultimate Crispy Risotto Balls with Butternut, Crispy Sage and Aioli ​

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  • Author: Jess Bunn
  • Total Time: 1 Hour
  • Yield: 40 Balls
  • Diet: Vegetarian


Arancini, or crispy risotto balls, what could be more delicious? These cheesy Sicilian croquettes with aioli are perfect for a casual starter!




  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, (or 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast)
  • olive oil
  • 2 cups risotto rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 250g butternut, peeled and cubed into 3cm chunks

To Assemble 

  • 2L canola oil
  • 1 200g packet of panko breadcrumbs
  • 200g mozzarella or dairy-free vegan cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten or vegan milk of choice
  • 100g flour

For serving

  • sage leaves, picked from the stem
  • 1/4 clove garlic
  • 60ml mayonnaise
  • vegan pesto (optional)


  1. Steam the butternut chunks and cook until very soft, then puree with a stick blender until smooth.
  2. While your butternut cooks, add a splash of olive oil to a deep saucepan and fry your onion and garlic on medium/low heat until it starts to look translucent and the onions are soft, but not coloured.
  3. Add the rice and cook, stirring often for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the wine and stir until it has all but disappeared.
  5. Once the alcohol has cooked off, it’s time to start adding the stock. Heat the vegetable stock in a pot or in the microwave before to start adding it to the rice.
  6. Next add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside.
  7. Stir gently and constantly. Once the stock is all absorbed, add another ladle of stock. Repeat until all the stock is used up and the rice is just cooked. As it cools it will cook a bit more so try to cook it to al dente (just cooked with a bit of a bite).
  8. Once all the stock is finished, stir through your butternut puree, parmesan (or nutritional yeast) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the risotto into a container and allow it to cool. You can pop the risotto in the fridge to firm up, which will make it easier to work with.
    • The step above is best done prior to Christmas so you don’t need to hang around waiting on the risotto to cool.
  9. Once the risotto has cooled, cube the cheese into 1cm bites.
  10. Remove 1 Tbsp of cooled risotto and form it around the cube of cheese.
  11. Next, massage your bag of panko to break up the large crumbs, before pouring the bag into a cereal bowl. In another bowl add a beaten egg or vegan milk and finally in a third the flour. First, roll the risotto balls into flour, then dip them into the egg/vegan milk and finally into the panko.  Repeat with the remaining rice balls.
  12. Heat a pot of oil over high heat. Remember you need enough oil to cover the arancini, but use a big enough pot as the oil will bubble up and may overflow. Never fry in a pot more than 2/3 full of oil!
  13. Fry the arancini until golden, before removing them with a metal spider onto kitchen towel to drain. Repeat until all the arancini are finished. This step can be done a few hours in advance and the arancini reheated at 180C for 10 minutes (from room temperature) in the oven or in the air fryer for 5 minutes at 170C.
  14. While the arancini fry, grate 1/4 clove of garlic into 60ml mayo. Season the mayo with salt if needed.
  15. Once all the arancini are cooked, add the sage leaves to the oil and fry until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.
  16. Pile your arancini onto a serving plate, scatter over the crispy sage. Serve with your garlic mayo and kale pesto, hot and gooey from the oven!

Happy cooking!

  • Category: Starters
  • Method: Fry
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 508.73kcal
  • Sugar: 0.68g
  • Sodium: 140.37mg
  • Fat: 48.52g
  • Saturated Fat: 4.49g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 43.27g
  • Trans Fat: 0.18g
  • Carbohydrates: 14.82g
  • Fiber: 0.41g
  • Protein: 3.38g
  • Cholesterol: 9.06mg
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