Arancini Mac & Cheese

arancini macaroni and cheese

On many Sundays during the summer we find ourselves at 2Amys, tired and famished after a long morning at the zoo, trying to keep our two thrashing children from making too much of a disturbance. An order of arancini — deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese — usually does the trick, settling the children (and us) at first bite.

I LOVE arancini, but they’re a total pain to make, not only calling for leftover risotto, but also requiring a lengthy assembly process — shaping, stuffing, breading and deep frying. Crispy on the outside, oozing with cheese on the inside, these “little oranges” are worth their every effort — once I made them at home — but they are not something to whip up every day, better ordered out a place like 2Amys, best (not that I speak from experience) picked up at a vendor parked along a Palermo sidewalk.

Arancini macaroni and cheese is a different story. Made with a thin bechamel infused with saffron — the classic seasoning of risotto milanese — this macaroni and cheese shares all of the crispy-creamy goodness of arancini but without all the fuss. This dish is my contribution to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s Fourth Annual 30 Days, 30 Ways, a month-long event celebrating macaroni and cheese. Check out their blog for other mac and cheese ideas, this year all based on classic dishes.

ingredients for arancini macaroni & cheese

herbed breadcrumbs


Arancini Milanese Mac & Cheese

No-boil method inspired by this Bon Appetit recipe; arancini ingredients inspired by a Mario Batali recipe, suppli al Telefono, in Molto Italiano
Serves 8 to 10

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup flour
3 cups whole milk
3 cups water
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of saffron* (optional)
4 ounces (about 1 cup) pancetta, diced
3/4 pound elbow macaroni
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) Wisconsin Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 cup Wisconsin Fresh Mozzarella, cubed

*Saffron is expensive, but a little goes a long way, so once you purchase some, you will likely have it on hand for a long time. It imparts a lovely flavor, but it can be omitted — the cheese, pancetta and buttered bread crumbs add plenty of flavor on their own.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of flour-butter mixture from bottom of pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add salt, pepper and pinch of saffron. Simmer until mixture begins to barely thicken — it will lightly gloss the back of a wooden spoon — about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, in medium frying pan, crisp pancetta over medium heat until fat is rendered and nicely browned. In 9x13x2-inch baking dish, toss macaroni (there is no need to cook the macaroni in this recipe) with Parmesan Cheese. Transfer pancetta to baking dish using slotted spoon; toss gently to combine. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of butter to pan with rendered pancetta fat and melt over low heat. Add panko to medium bowl; pour butter over top; mix to combine. Stir in parsley; season with salt.

Pour prepared saffron sauce over macaroni mixture — it will feel like an inordinate amount of liquid for the amount of pasta, but it will all get soaked up during baking. It is not necessary to stir mixture. Cover pan with foil and carefully transfer to oven. Bake 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and gently stir. Scatter cubes of Fresh Mozzarella evenly across the mixture. Top with panko bread crumb mixture. Bake additional 15 – 20 minutes, or until top is golden and the macaroni is bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.


  1. says

    What a great twist on a classic (that, like you, I have almost no patience to make… :-)

    by the way, I finally made that great salad you posted from Turquoise (I think) – green olives, walnuts, pomegranate seeds… one word: WOW!

    I will be blogging about it in a couple of weeks or so, and will link to your original post, of course

    (have I mentioned I love your blog? 😉

    • says

      Sally — so happy to hear you liked the salad from Turquoise! I find it to be so refreshing and satisfying and addictive. Looking forward to seeing your post! And thank you for your kind words about the blog.

  2. Liz says

    What a perfect dish to enjoy during this cold spell we have been having. Not cooking the macaroni? I never could have imagined this would work, but can’t wait to try this method. Great idea, Alexandra. I hope the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board appreciates your brilliance. This is more you than Mario, it seems to me!

  3. says

    Just yesterday, I made Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese in the slow cooker – unfortunately it wasn’t as smoky as I would have liked. It was OK, but not as good as my own recipe for Three-Cheese, Ham & Peas Mac & Cheese.

    Your recipe looks devine, so there will definitely be a mac & cheese night on next week’s Weeksworld menu.

    Heck, I even have the same little cast iron pans (which I bought to make your Baked Fontina in, another big hit BTW).

    • says

      Lollie — both of your mac & cheese recipes sound heavenly. I was on a smoked mozzarella kick a few months ago, but I love a smoked Gouda too…sorry it didn’t turn out as you had hoped. Glad to hear the baked fontina (and the mini cast iron pan) was a success!

  4. says

    I have never attempted to make arancini at home, I have not even had it on the streets of Naples or Palermo, but I could see myself making this pasta dish.

  5. says

    am having trouble using your new method of accessing recipes. Hope I don’t have to forget about you–have enjoyed sooooo many recipes and your fun articles

    • says

      Karen — hi! Please don’t forget about me :) are you talking about the ziplist button? You have to be a member of ziplist to save recipes. I added the button a little while ago bc ziplist is used by so many people, and I wanted to make saving recipes easy for these members. I hope that makes sense. Let me know if you are referring to a different issue.

  6. says

    Great recipe, love the idea of not having to cook the pasta before assembling the dish. I like to flavour my cheese sauce with fresh bay, which imparts a lovely earthy flavour and might be a good alternative to saffron? Adding ripe, fresh tomato pieces is also good, makes it feel a bit healthier than it otherwise might.

    • says

      Mandy — fresh bay is a wonderful idea! Definitely a good alternative to saffron. I might even prefer that flavor — I used to make a mac n cheese that called for fresh bay in the bechamel, and it was such a good flavor. I don’t think I even used fresh bay at the time bc I couldn’t find any, but I know where I can get some now. I’m going to try this next time. Thanks so much!

  7. Jessica says

    I had Arancini in Sicily last year and I have been trying to find them again ever since. I have had them once at a restaurant, and I could have eaten a dozen more. This recipe looks fabulous, I will certainly be trying it out!

    • says

      Jessica — I know, arancini are so unbelievably delicious! It’s probably a good thing that I don’t live closer to 2Amys in fact. And I’m kind of glad they are a lot of work to make bc I wouldn’t want to be whipping them up for myself every few days :) This mac n cheese is a nice happy medium.

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