STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING and make these Spinach and Barley Arancini!!!!
Oh boy. Sorry to yell at you like that. I’m just so excited about these delicious, delicious morsels!
They are easy, freezable, and kid friendly. They are good for an appetizer, side, or main dish. They are a great way to use up leftovers. They are simple and crunchy and delicious, especially when dipped in a hearty portion of marinara sauce. AND they are packed with good-for-you whole grains and veggies and oven-baked, which makes them a much healthier version than traditional fried Italian arancini.
Have I convinced you yet? Are you literally RUNNING to your kitchen to begin cooking these? Hopefully by the end of this post, you will be :-)
First things first. Have you ever hear of arancini before? I hadn’t until I had the wonderful opportunity of traveling abroad in Italy (in the Naples region- specifically at Pompeii. It was VERY cool.) during grad school. I *kind of* remember what I learned… but mostly, I remember the food.
Oh, the food. Pizza and gelato at every corner. Wine from never-ending pitchers at lunch AND dinner. Pasta pasta pasta. And, these adorable and delicious fried rice balls called arancini! It’s truly a miracle that I didn’t gain 128 pounds while I was there.
Arancini (pronounced ah-rahn-CHEE-nee) means “little oranges” in Italian. Don’t be fooled: they have absolutely no oranges in them whatsoever, but rather are named for their golden color and shape.
Traditionally, arancini are made with risotto, and this would be a great way to use up leftover risotto if you happen to have some, or the time to make it (here’s my recipe for barley risotto!). Risotto is rolled into a ball, and then a hole is made in the center of the ball in which to stuff mozzarella (and pine nuts, and parsley, and other kinds of things). The rice ball is sealed up, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried until the outside is crispy and the inside is melty.
Mmmmm. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It also sounds like a lot of work. This version of arancini is MUCH easier, much faster, much healthier, and less messy. And while I will admit that the fried version does taste a bit better than the baked (as it always does), the difference in taste is minimal. These are DELICIOUS!
Here’s what to do.
Start with some plain, cooked barley. You really can use whatever grain you want here- rice, quinoa, farro… whatever you have in your pantry or leftover from a previous meal. Mix it with an egg, some cooked fresh or frozen spinach (thawed and drained), mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and some seasonings. Roll the mixture into balls (kind of like meatballs), coat in breadcrumbs, and place on a parchment covered baking sheet. Easy, huh?
At this point, you have some options. You can bake them right away, with a drizzle of olive oil on top of each one. You can place them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook them, for up to a few days. Or, you can flash freeze them by placing them in the freezer directly on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, then transfer them to an airtight container or bag to store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
I froze half of mine and baked the other half right away. I’m telling you: it’s taking me a lot of self control to not dive into my freezer stash right now and make myself some more! If you do choose to freeze them, you can cook them directly from the freezer for a little bit more time. If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to frozen chicken nuggets to feed your kids (or yourself, because let’s be realistic), this is it.
Oh. One more thing. If you are making these as an appetizer or as a side, make them small (about one inch in diameter). If you want to make them into a meal on their own, they can be made much larger. I personally prefer them small because the ratio of crispy breadcrumbs to filling is higher (yum), and they are more “poppable.”
Now, go make these! You and your family will be eternally grateful if you do.
Oven-Baked Spinach and Barley Arancini (Italian Rice Balls)
- 2 cups cooked barley or risotto, rice, quinoa, or other cooked grain
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 6 oz. one package fresh baby spinach, or one package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- salt pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
- 1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs*
- olive oil
- marinara sauce for dipping (optional)
- If you are using fresh spinach, steam it until it is fully wilted, then squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. If using frozen, thaw it and drain it as thoroughly as possible.
- Combine all ingredients except for breadcrumbs in a medium mixing bowl.
- In a shallow dish or bowl, combine breadcrumbs with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Roll mixture into balls (like meatballs) and coat in breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet.
- At this point, you may store in the fridge until you are ready to cook, or flash freeze them/store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- When you are ready to cook, drizzle arancini with a little olive oil and bake at 375 for 20 minutes on a parchment covered baking sheet.
- Serve with marinara sauce for dipping, if desired.
* For a gluten-free option, make sure to use a gluten-free grain such as rice or quinoa in place of the barley, and use gluten-free breadcrumbs as well!