Italian Rice Ball Casserole Recipe

Italian rice balls are one of the many mouthwatering recipes people really enjoy. If you're not familiar with them, allow us to catch you up on this classic. Italian rice balls, also known as arancini, are delicious, deep-fried rice balls that originated in Sicily. The result is a scrumptious treat that's golden-brown and crispy on the outside and a lovely combination of rice and melted cheese on the inside. They can also be more complex, with marinara sauce and meat sometimes included. They are like a fancy, cheesy meatball of sorts.

There's just one catch with this tasty recipe. Rice balls may be delicious, but they take quite a while to prepare. A deep fryer can speed up the process, but making and frying the rice balls can take quite a bit of time. Enter, the Italian rice ball casserole. The perfect way to get that same delicious combination of ingredients in a fraction of the time is by whipping up this recipe by Christina Musgrave of Tasting With Tina. "This dish is a fun twist on the traditional Italian rice ball," she says. "It's less time-consuming since you do not have to individually roll and fry each rice ball."

Gather all your ingredients to make this tasty Italian rice ball casserole

You want to make sure you have all of your ingredients sorted before you begin making this Italian rice ball casserole. It's all about staying faithful to the original. You'll want to make sure you have Arborio rice, which is crucial to nailing the consistency of this dish.

Panko breadcrumbs are another ingredient you definitely don't want to deviate from if you want your dish to have that deep-fried style crunch to it. "I like panko breadcrumbs for their flaky and crispy texture," Christina Musgrave says. "I feel that they give the top of the dish a 'fried' crunch like a rice ball would do."

Other ingredients you'll need to gather include red sauce, ground beef, white onion, garlic, olive oil, butter, and Parmesan cheese.

Preheat the oven, and cook the rice

Begin by preheating your oven to 400 F. While it's heating up, you'll get started by making your Arborio rice. Cook the rice according to the directions on the package, with 4 cups of water.

If you're thinking you can get by with whatever rice you have on hand to prepare this recipe, think again. Musgrave advises that home cooks stick to the Arborio rice if you're looking for that authentic rice ball taste and texture. "Arborio rice is the traditional rice to use for risotto," Musgrave explains. "This keeps the recipe authentically Italian and gives you the perfect risotto texture in this casserole."

When the rice is done, add the Parmesan cheese. Stir well to incorporate, then set aside to cool.

Heat the olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic

In a skillet, heat up the olive oil. Add in the diced white onion, and sauté for about three minutes. Then, add the garlic, and sauté for another two minutes. Many beginner chefs make the mistake of cooking both at the same time. Staggering brings out the best in both the onion and garlic flavors, all without overcooking the onion. You'll know it's ready when the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add in your ground beef and red sauce

Add your pound of ground beef to the skillet. Mix in with the onion and garlic. Then, cook the meat, stirring occasionally to allow it to brown evenly. 

Next, you'll add 2 cups of red sauce to the skillet, and mix well. "This is a good opportunity to thaw and use any homemade frozen sauce," Musgrave says. Of course, you can used homemade red sauce or canned sauce. Be sure to mix well.

Add the remaining red sauce to the rice and cheese mix

The remaining 1 cup of red sauce is added to the Arborio rice and cheese mix. Stir the sauce in until it's well coated. 

Next, you'll need a greased baking dish. Musgrave recommends a standard 9x13-inch baking dish, but a larger one will also work. You'll want to add half of the rice mixture to the bottom of the pan, and press down. It's the first of more delicious layers to come, so try to get a good, even spread of it.

Add more flavorful layers to complete the Italian rice ball casserole

Next, add half of the beef mixture in a layer on top of the rice mixture. Repeat with another layer of the rice mixture, then another layer of the beef mixture. You should have four layers, (rice-beef-rice-beef) altogether.

Now, set it aside while you prepare your breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs are the final layer of this mouthwatering, easy dinner dish, and they'll complete it perfectly.

Brown the breadcrumbs

The breadcrumbs are the crowning glory of this recipe. The crispy breadcrumb layer is one of the best parts of biting into an Italian rice ball, and the Italian rice ball casserole delivers that same crunch.

Grab a small skillet, and melt the 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the breadcrumbs, and cook until the breadcrumbs are golden-brown. Once the breadcrumbs have that golden-brown hue, sprinkle them evenly across the top of the casserole. Now, the casserole is ready to cook.

Finish, and enjoy

Cover the casserole with foil, and relax while it bakes for 15 minutes. Get ready for your kitchen to smell even more delicious. Allow a few minutes for the casserole to cool before serving, and voila! You have all of the incredible ingredients that make up traditional rice balls in a time-saving, flavorful recipe you can easily make no matter how crunched for time you are. With eight to 10 servings, there will be plenty of leftovers to enjoy, but if you have a group of friends coming over, this filling dish will work just perfectly.

Italian Rice Ball Casserole Recipe
5 from 37 ratings
This casserole is a fun twist on the traditional Italian rice ball, with the same delicious combination of ingredients.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Italian Rice Ball Casserole plated
Total time: 45 minutes
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 4 cups of water
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 3 cups red sauce, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Cook rice with 4 cups of water, according to the package directions. When rice is done, add in Parmesan cheese, and stir well. Set aside to cool.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add diced onion, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add minced garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add ground beef, and cook until browned. Add 2 cups of red sauce, and mix well.
  4. Mix the rice with 1 cup of red sauce.
  5. In a greased baking dish, add half the rice mixture to the bottom of the pan, and press down. Add half the beef mixture on top, then layer with the rest of the rice and the beef.
  6. In a small skillet, melt the butter, and add the breadcrumbs. Cook until the breadcrumbs are golden-brown. Add the breadcrumbs on top of the casserole.
  7. Cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes.
  8. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
Calories per Serving 396
Total Fat 17.4 g
Saturated Fat 7.2 g
Trans Fat 0.8 g
Cholesterol 51.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 42.7 g
Dietary Fiber 1.7 g
Total Sugars 0.8 g
Sodium 110.5 mg
Protein 15.1 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Rate this recipe