Vegan arancini packed with super stretchy vegan mozzarella, filled with fresh basil pesto. All covered in a crispy golden breadcrumb coating!
These vegan arancini are EMOTIONALLY and SPIRITUALLY very important to me. They’re so fresh, with a delicious basil pesto filling. The rice itself is fragrant with lemon zest and creamy with super dramatic vegan mozzarella getting all stringy up in your face! The coating is crispy perfection and that “wow moment” when you break one open is BORDERLINE SEXY!
Here come the emotions. My first brush with arancini was a particularly sad one, many years ago in Boston’s Little Italy. As a (then) lifelong vegetarian, I had come to rely of risotto being a pretty safe space on the menu of pretty much all restaurants. It was to my delight, then, to learn of a magical appetiser made from cheesy risotto, rolled into balls, breadcrumbed and DEEP FRIED! (Imagine a very sweaty vegetarian me with wide eyes learning about arancini for the first time).
I was visiting friends at the time in Boston, so the next morning I power walked over to little Italy with my guide-book in hand and straight into the first Italian bakery/restaurant I could find. They had, no joke, SHELVES of arancini, STACKED high, all glistening and freshly fried!
I used my school-boy Italian to translate the menu and, to my HORROR, realised that NONE of the arancini were vegetarian! I wen’t from shop to shop that day, desperately searching for one I could eat, and I failed miserably. Unfortunately I went home empty handed and starving hungry.
Needless to say, if I returned to that same street today, I’d be EVEN LESS likely to find any VEGAN ARANCINI! So, this recipe is my attempt to absolutely nail a vegan arancini recipe (and I think I nailed it).
What are vegan arancini?
You’ve probably guessed from what I’ve written so far that vegan arancini (in fact all Arancini) involves risotto. 10 out of 10 for reading comprehension!
Arancini come from the south of Italy, namely Sicily. The name means lil’ oranges (which is cute) and refers to how golden and round they look once fried!
The challenges I faced with this recipe were as follows:
- Make the vegan arancini taste CHEESY!
- Make the pesto filling without using parmesan cheese!
- Finally, to make these guys irresistible without their usual meaty filling.
It wasn’t easy but I’m happy to say I nailed it! I use a variation of my vegan mozzarella recipe for the cheesiness. The pesto is kept cheesy with nutritional yeast and sharp with lemon juice. And trust me, you won’t even miss the meaty filling – the pesto is incredible.
Made the Recipe?
Let me know what you think in the comments – and throw me a rating if you like!
- High Speed Blender
For the Risotto
- 1 l water (boiling)
- 1.5 tbsp bouillon powder (make sure it's a vegan variety)
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 onion (finely diced)
- 1 clove garlic (finely diced or crushed)
- 215 g arborio rice
- 65 ml white wine (vegan stuff obvi)
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
For the Pesto
- 30 g fresh basil (stalks and leaves)
- 30 g pine nuts (toasted in a dry pan)
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1.5 tbsp water
For the Vegan Mozzarella
- 110 g silken tofu
- 70 ml oat milk
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 25 g odourless coconut oil
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 3 tbsp tapioca starch
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
For the Coating
- 3 tbsp gram flour
- 1 tbsp plain white flour
- 10 tbsp plant milk
- 80 g breadcrumbs
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- vegetable oil (for frying)
To Make the Risotto
- Mix together the boiling water and bouillon in a medium saucepan and set over a low heat to simmer. Place a second medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and bring to temperature.
- Once your oil is hot, add the diced onion and cook for two minutes or until turning translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir to combine with the onion and garlic. Allow the rice to heat lightly for around a minute before adding your wine and stirring again.
- Once almost all of the wine has evaporated, us a ladle to spoon some hot bouillon (which should be still simmering) and pour over the rice while stirring constantly. Allow the rice to cook off most of the moisture and then add another ladle full of bouillon. Repeat until you have no bouillon remaining (around 10-15 minutes).
- After all the bouillon is gone, check the rice is done by tasting a small amount. If it feels gritty in the centre it's not done, but if it feels smooth but very slightly firm, then you're done. If the rice is not cooked, add a few more ladles of boiling water and continue to cook until it is.
- Once the rice is fully cooked, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest and nutritional yeast. Spread the risotto out on a baking tray to allow it to cool for at least an hour in the fridge, or, if you're not in a rush, cover it up and allow to cool overnight.
To Make the Pesto
- While your risotto is cooling, make the pesto. Place all the ingredients in a high speed blender and blitz until combined but still slightly chunky. Cover and place in the fridge to chill.
To Make the Vegan Mozzarella
- Place all the ingredients in a high speed blender and blitz until completely smooth.
- Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisking constantly, allow the mixture to thicken. Once bubbles start to rise, the mixture should be super thick and stringy and stretchy. Remove from the heat.
- Place all your cooled rice in a large bowl and add the vegan mozzarella. Stir well to combine until the mozzarella is evenly distributed. Set aside while you prepare your coatings.
To Make the Coating and Assemble
- In one medium bowl whisk together the flours and plant milk. In another medium bowl place the breadcrumbs.
- Cover the palm of your hand with a sheet of cling film or greaseproof paper. Holding your hand flat, spread out a circle of the cooked risotto rice around 5-6cm in diameter. Gently cup your hand and make a well in the centre of the rice with your other thumb. Place a half tsp of chilled pesto into the well then top with some more rice (don't worry if some pesto is showing through the sides, just do your best to seal up the gaps with more rice.
- Gather up the sides of the cling film to make a ball of rice. You can twist the top of the cling film gently to make sure the rice is gently compressed. Remove the cling film and set aside.
- Very gently, roll the rice ball first in the gram flour mixture and then the breadcrumbs. Set aside gently on a baking tray. Repeat this process until you've used up all your risotto.
- Place a medium saucepan over medium/low heat and add around 2-3 inches of vegetable oil. Using a probe or candy thermometer, bring the oil to 170c. If you don't have a thermometer, drop small square of bread into the oil. If it bubbles straight away and browns gently, then you're at temperature.
- Reduce the heat to low and using a spider or slotted spoon, lower one arancini into the oil. It should bubble immediately (if not, your oil is too cold) and should brown in around 2 minutes on each side.
- Remove the arancini once cooked and place on a couple of sheets of kitchen towel to help drain. Repeat with all your arancini.
- I serve my arancini with another small portion of pesto or a side of marinara sauce for dipping!