Old School Italian Arancini for @TheTableSet

old school Italian arancini

Pea and Pistachio Old School Arancini with Tarragon Pesto. There are a lot of great things to learn about Italian cooking and culture packed inside these little rice balls. I’m calling them old school Italian arancini, though that’s not strictly true.

I made them as my contribution to a dinner party The Table Set threw for a few friends. You see Nathan, Andy and I were recently at Miceli’s, here is Hollywood. Miceli’s is the kind of old school Italian restaurant that only exists in America. Usually these restaurants are holdover from another time. A time when America defined Italian food as anything covered in a red tomato and red meat sauce.

While we were at Miceli’s we got to talking about places like Miceli’s and how they defined American’s idea of what Old School Italian food is. Those attitudes have changed quite a bit. Today most of us have a much broader, more regional understanding of how Italians really eat. But there’s just something about the old school Italian red checkered table cloth places that fits so well into American life. We took our recorder to the restaurant to capture the feeling of the evening we spent there. The evening that inspired us to throw an old school Italian dinner at home. I hope you’ll listen to episode.

Old School Italian Cooking

When it comes to old school Italian cooking how many times have you heard the phrase, now that’s Italian? Well, probably far fewer than you think. Because many of the classics we attribute to Italy are not authentic Italian dishes. They’re American adaptations. But really, who cares where it’s from anyway? Some of my favorite “Italian” restaurant specialties aren’t typically found in Italy. Things like Baked Ziti, Pasta and Broccoli, Pasta Primavera, and Fettuccine Alfredo were all developed here and became popular not only on dining tables but as reflections of family traditions too. Even the classic Spaghetti and Meatballs is not something you’ll likely be served in Italy.

Wine Pairing

2009 Vigne del Malina Pinot Grigio 

bottiglia pinot grigio
Vigne del Malina, Pinot Grigio. The vineyards of Malina are beautifully situated in a valley between two streams, the Malina and the Ellero, in the northeast corner of Italy. The nine low-yield, high quality wines produced there benefit from the alluvial gravel soil of these ancient rivers– providing a lovely mineral component in the wine. Chill wind […]
Ken Eskenazi

Price $19

Pairs well with Seafood, fish soup or cured meats like prosciutto.

Now I may not care where these old school Italian American specialties developed, but I am interested in why they developed.

Italian immigrant families 3 or 4 generations ago cooked up Spaghetti and Meatballs as a reaction to their new lives in this country. The dish probably had its origins in one of the baked Neapolitan pasta dishes served at religious festivals. Because at that tumultuous time of Italy’s history (they were fighting over the concept of unifying all the regions of Italy into a republic) meat was costly. So these special occasion dishes used meatballs the size of marbles as opposed to the egg-sized versions we are used to in America. In short, American-style old school Italian food is often about abundance and devolved the way it did because Italian immigrants were adapting their traditions to the food and culture of their new country.

So I don’t mind taking something that is classically Italian and giving it a modern American twist. In Italy arancini are likely to be filled with a Bolognese and served with marinara. Delicious. But my version of old school Italian arancini are made modern and light with a filling of sweet peas and pistachios. Even my pesto is new school. It’s made with tarragon instead of basil. Cin-Cin. GREG

Old School Italian Arancini

Peas and Pistachio Arancini with Tarragon Pesto 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 16Source Renato Poliafito for Food & WinePublished

Make Ahead: The fried arancini can be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight; reheat them in a 375° F oven until crispy, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Peas and Pistachio Arancini


  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 cup fresh tarragon leaves (loosely packed)
  • ½ cup shelled and roughly chopped pistachios (divided)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan (divided)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoon unsated butter (divided)
  • 1 large shallot (minced)
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 pinch saffron threads (crumbled)
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed)
  • 3 cup chicken stock (warmed)
  • ½ tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more as needed for dusting arancini)
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 1 pinch grated nutmeg
  • 4 ounce mozzarella (well chilled then finely diced)
  • 2 tablespoon frozen baby peas (thawed)
  • 2 large eggs (beaten)
  • 2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • vegetable oil (as needed, for frying)


Make the pesto: Peel and finely chop the garlic. Add about ⅓ of the tarragon leaves and continue chopping. Once this is loosely chopped add a big pinch or two more tarragon. Continue chopping, scraping and gathering the mixture into a thick pile every time it begins to spread out. Continue the process with a big pinch or two of tarragon at a time until all the tarragon in incorporated. This method gives you a nice varied textured that cannot be matched by a food processor. 

Add about 1/8 cup the pistachios; chopping, scraping and gathering as before. Add another 1/8 cup pitachios, continuing the process. Repeat these steps with the ¼ cup grated Parmesan. Your goal is a dense mixture that will hold together when pinched. At that point transfer the pesto to a small bowl. Cover with the olive oil; stirring to combine. Makes about 1 cup of pesto.

Make the risotto: In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 7 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until well coated with butter. Add the white wine and saffron, season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the warm chicken stock ½ cup at a time and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until it is absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, 25 minutes total. Stir in the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmesan, transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan. Add the ½ tablespoon of flour and whisk constantly over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with the nutmeg, salt and black pepper and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Stir in the mozzarella, remaining ¼ cup pistachios and all the peas.

Make the arancini: Line a large baking sheet with parchment. Put the eggs, panko and flour for dusting in 3 shallow bowls. Using lightly moistened hands, shape the rice mixture into sixteen 2‑inch balls. Working with one ball at a time, make an indentation in the center with your finger and press the sides to make the hollow larger. Spoon a scant tablespoon of the pistachio filling into the hollow and press the risotto around the filling to enclose it. Take care to fully enclose the filling so it doesn’t ooze out during frying. Transfer the ball to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto and filling. Dust the arancini with flour, tapping off the excess. Coat them with the egg and roll in the panko.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 ½ to 2‑inches vegetable oil to 350° F. Fry the arancini, turning occasionally, until deeply golden, about 8 minutes. Drain the arancini on paper towels and serve hot.