Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole: The best thing I’ve eaten all year!

One of my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE Sicilian dishes is Arancini.  For those of you that don’t know what it is….I feel sorry for you.  Really I do because you have missed such a delicious part of life thus far. But it’s not too late.  You still have time.  Arancini are stuffed rice balls, coated with breadcrumbs which are then deep fried.  The center is filled with meat sauce and peas.  The rice is also mixed with cheese to help the ball take shape.  In turn what you have is this incredibly crispy on the outside, cheesy gooey on the inside big ball of awesomeness.  There are no other words to describe it.

Arancini originated in Sicily and my family has been making them for as long as I can remember.  Usually around the holidays because they are a lot of work. Don’t even try to buy these at the store.  I’ve seen them at Italian Markets before already made and take-home-ready….and I’ve tried them.  YUCK!  You really have to make them yourself.

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The name derives from their shape and color, which is reminiscent of an orange (the Italian word for orange is arancia, and arancina means “little orange”).


So as you know, I did say deep fried.  Remember “everything in moderation” my favorite saying.  (Pffff.)  Well I look forward to going to Michigan because I know my little Sicilian Aunties are going to have Arancini for me.  And lasagna.  And pizza.  And chicken parmesan.  And cannoli’s.  It’s the best thing ever.  I get indigestion thinking about it.

Well, one of my favorite places to go when I’m looking for a healthy recipe is Skinnytaste. I’ve made a lot of her recipes.  Some are good, some are ok.  But I’ve never found anything that has knocked my socks off.  (Maybe because it’s “healthier”….go figure!)  Until, a couple weeks ago when my mom was in town.  Since she doesn’t like anything…and totally went crazy over this, I knew it was good!

Braces yourselves……………I found the MOST AMAZING dish called Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole and it’s TO DIE FOR!!!  I’m usually immediately turned off by the word “casserole.”  I’m not a casserole kinda girl.  I wouldn’t even really call this one.  But this, well this is just a piece of heaven in your mouth. It’s like a healthy arancini cake! Made with ground turkey and a little bit of sausage instead of beef.  Also, it’s not deep fried.  I thought there was definitely no way this could even compare to my beloved Arancini.  WRONG! I flipped out.  If your doing Weight Watchers, Gina (the founder of Skinnytaste) posts all of the WW points on her recipes.  I wish I could take credit for this awesome dish.  But I’m really not that creative.  Most of the time I just manipulate other people’s recipes to my satisfaction.  Rarely have I ever created something of my own.

I’m a very visual person.  I like to “see” things.  I find it easier when I’m cooking.  So I recreated this recipe for everyone with lots of pictures to help you along the way.  It’s time consuming, but worth it.  However, make the sauce a day or two beforehand.  I made it the day of and it made the process that much longer.  Or don’t make your own sauce and just used jarred as a short cut.  My favorite jarred sauce is RAOS Marinara.  It’s the best one out there for sure!  It’ll run you about $8.99 a jar though.  Why you ask?  Because it’s the best…duh.  And good ain’t cheap sometimes.  (That’s the southern coming out in me…It’s been a whole 6 1/2 years since I uprooted to Nashville.)  Pretty soon I’m gonna be saying “fixin.”  I’m fixin’ to make you some food y’all!! Okay I’ve had 2 glasses of red wine already so forgive me.  Try this…your stomach and waistline will thank you.

Lastly, like I mentioned earlier, this dish takes time.  Make the sauce ahead of time and the rice if you can.  I made it all at once and spent about 3 hours in my kitchen.

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Here is what you need: Prepare to be mind blown!

Chicken Broth, Breadcrumbs, (2 eggs, not 3!) Sweet Italian Sausage, Lean Ground Turkey, White Long Grain Rice, Basil, Carrots, Onion, Garlic, Crushed Tomatoes, EVOO, Sweet Peas, Mozzarella Cheese and Pecorino Romano.  

I already made the sauce…here it is. Filetto di Pomodoro Recipe Make it ahead of time so it’s not so labor intensive the day of.

Filetto di Pomodoro is AWESOME.  The recipe is simple and is great for when your trying to watch it because she doesn’t use a gallon of olive oil.  Just good quality ingredients.  

So there is a bit of prep work in order to make this…

You will need 2 cups of long grain white rice with 1 tsp. of kosher salt.  Cook it according to package directions and then set aside.  You can make this ahead of time too!  
Get some Pecorino Romano Cheese and grate it, 1/2 cup.  Mmmm Nice and strong!  
Weigh 10oz. of Lean Ground Turkey and 2.5 ounces of Sweet Italian Sausage.
Start with the sausage. Remove the casing and break it up with a wooden spoon over medium high heat.  
Add the ground turkey to it.  
Then add 1/4 cup of minced onion! 
Cook it all together until nice and brown!  
Add 5oz. of peas and 1/2 cup of sauce.  (So the recipe calls for that amount.  However I found it to be too many peas and not enough sauce!  So I do 3/4 cup sauce and about 3 oz. of peas.  Do what you wish!)
Mix it all up and simmer covered for 2o minutes.  

While the sauce simmers, grab your bowl of rice!!

Add the sauce, eggs and pecorino romano cheese.  Mix it all up!  
Done with the rice! Ok, now you are ready to begin assembling! 
Spray a 9×13 glass baking dish with cooking spray (get the sides too!) and sprinkle on 2 TBS of breadcrumbs. Roll it around to coat the whole dish.
Spread half of the rice mixture on the dish and up the sides.  Then, add your meat sauce!  
Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, then spread the remaining rice on top and press till even.  Put the remaining sauce over the top.  You may have to use a little more than what the recipe calls for.  
Top with remaining 2 TBS. Bread Crumbs.
Top with remainder of mozzarella.  Yeah, doesn’t look like that much does it? That’s because again, this is a “healthy” recipe.  So to realllllly make it good I would cover the whole top with mozzarella and not just this little pissy amount.  But I have to get into a bathing suit in a few weeks.  Ugh…it is what it is.  

Cover it with foil and pop it in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes!

Voila!  30 minutes later.  
And there you have it. Enjoy!


Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole
Servings: 8 • Serving Size: 1 slice (1/8th) • PP: 9 pts • Smart Points: 10
Calories: 373 • Fat: 10 g • Sat Fat: 4 g • Carb: 47 g • Fiber: 2 g • Protein: 21 g
Sugar: 1 g • Sodium: 629 mg • Chol: 61 mg

2 cups uncooked long grain rice
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (2.5 oz) sweet Italian sausage link, casing removed
10 oz (.65 lbs) 93% lean ground turkey
1/4 cup onion, minced
black pepper
5 oz frozen peas
2 cups homemade tomato sauce
1 large egg, 1 egg white
1/2 cup pecorino romano (or parmesan)
cooking spray
4 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs, divided
1 1/4 cup shredded part skim mozzarella
fresh parsley or basil, if desired


Cook rice with 1 teaspoon kosher salt according to package directions. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, sauté sausage meat; cook until brown breaking up into pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add turkey and onions and cook until browned, breaking up as it cooks. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste, then add peas and 1 cup sauce; simmer on low, covered, about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl combine cooked rice, pecorino romano, eggs, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce and mix well. Rice should be a bit sticky.

Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with cooking spray, making sure to spray sides too. Add 2 tbsp breadcrumbs to the dish and roll around to coat the bottom and sides.

Take half of the rice mixture (a little more if needed) and cover the bottom of the dish and up the sides; press to form the bottom layer. Fill with the meat and peas.  Top with 3/4 mozzarella cheese.  Then cover with remaining rice and press till even. Top with remaining sauce, remaining 2 tbsp breadcrumbs, and remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes, until hot. Garnish with parsley or basil if desired, cut into 8 pieces and serve.

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