Best Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas

If you love all the arancini, then you will love our Best Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas! Italian rice balls are known as the Sicilian Arancini, only it’s in a casserole version. This arancini casserole is our “all-in-one” favorite meal.

Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas (aka Arancini)

This is an easy version of the Italian rice balls, called arancini, because it’s an “all-in-one” rice ball stuffed with chopped meat, peas, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. This recipe is so wonderful and easy to make. For more delicious casseroles, try Rice and Chicken Casserole, Lasagna with No-Boil Noodles, and Best Shrimp Mac and Cheese. And for “meatless” casseroles, don’t miss our Ravioli Bake Casserole, Easy Stuffed Shells, and Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna.

On a white plate is a serving of rice casserole stuffed with meat , peas and melted cheese in the center.

How to Make Rice Ball Casserole (Arancini)?…

This is a 2 step process to prepare.  One is the rice mixture and the other is the meat and peas filling.  Plus, you will need a lot of prepared marinara sauce, and at least 4 cups. These rice balls are usually served with some extra tomato sauce on top.

If you are looking for the perfect one-dish meal containing carbs, protein, and vegetables? Then this Best Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas is it!

A large platter filled with pieces of rice casserole for serving.

Ingredients Needed for this Recipe:

(*full recipe card, plus video on the below!)

  • FOR THE RICE MIXTURE:
  • Long grain rice: choose a stick rice for this recipe.
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • FOR THE MEAT and PEAS MIXTURE:
  • Ground beef: choose a package the leanest chopped meat you can find.
  • Vegetables: you will need frozen peas, garlic and onion.
  • Tomato Sauce: we prefer our Mom’s Quick Marinara Sauce. It is quick and fresh tasting and requires only 4 ingredients.
  • Seasonings: you will need some salt and black pepper.
  • FOR ASSEMBLING THE CASSEROLE:
  • Cheeses: choose some grated pecorino cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus shredded Mozzarella.
  • Bread Crumbs: choose plain bread crumbs or gluten-free.

Note and Tips for Success…

  • For our recipe, we used our Mom’s Marinara Sauce, which I had on hand.  But you can use your favorite store-bought sauce.  You will need a lot of prepared tomato sauce, about 4 cups, and more.
  • You will need “sticky rice” to make this casserole.  NOTE: Instant rice will not work! Best to use Long Grain Rice. 
  • Our mom always made this dish into a casserole with all the same fantastic ingredients of making “arancini” Sicilian popular rice balls. Only she preferred to make it with her Classic Bolognese Sauce and just added frozen peas to it.
  • This casserole is “baked” which makes a delicious dinner and clean-up a breeze!

Directions to make this casserole:

(*Follow along with our Step-by-Step directions, or jump down to the bottom for our full recipe card.)

1.  First, cook 3 cups of rice with 6 cups of water, and follow the directions on the package, including adding some butter (2 tablespoons) and 1 teaspoon of salt to the water.  When rice is cooked, transfer it to a large mixing bowl, add the additional butter, mix, and set aside to cool.

2.  In the meantime, using a medium skillet, sauté chopped onion and garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes.  Add the ground beef and cook the meat until browned and well cooked.  Using a wooden spoon, break the chopped meat while cooking.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add peas and 8-ounce (1 cup) of tomato sauce (prepared marinara sauce).  Simmer on low heat, covered for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

A large skillet on stove top cooking ground beef and peas together.

3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (204C).
Next, in a large mixing bowl, combine rice with eggs, Pecorino cheese, and pour in 1 cup (8-ounces)  of marinara sauce, and mix well.  Rice will be sticky.

4.  Spray one 13 x 9 casserole dish, including all four sides, with cooking spray.  Add breadcrumbs to the baking dish, and roll the dish until the bottom and all sides are coated with breadcrumbs.

A large white ceramic baking dish with bottom and sides coated with bread crumbs.

5.  Take half of the rice mixture and cover the bottom of the dish and press down to form a layer. Then add the entire meat and peas mixture to cover the rice. 

a large white casserole dish with meat and peas mixture.

 6.  Spread an additional ladle (about 1/2 cup) of marinara sauce evenly over the meat and peas mixture. Then scatter with a layer of shredded mozzarella on top.

A white large baking dish filled with meat, peas and tomato sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese.

7.  Add the remaining rice mixture and spread with the back of a spoon to help spread the rice evenly.

A white ceramic baking dish filled with a layer of cooked rice.

8.  Top the rice with the remaining marinara sauce about 8-ounce (1 cup).  Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.   Then top with a final layer of shredded mozzarella.

Shredded mozzarella cheese is being sprinkled on top the tomato sauce.

9.  Cover with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes, until the mozzarella is melted.  Remove and cut into 12 squares.

Frequent Questions & Answers…

  1. Can we make ahead?   You can make this rice ball casserole up to 1 day ahead.
  2. Can we freeze it? You can divide this recipe into 2 smaller trays and freeze one before baking.  Allow the casserole to cool completely. Then cover with aluminum foil and freeze. It freezes well and for up to 1 month.
  3. How to thaw, if Frozen? You will need to thaw completely on your counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. Also, allow the casserole to warm up to room temperature before baking, for at least 1 to 2 hours. This will ensure it will reheat evenly.
  4. How to serve this rice ball casserole? When serving, it’s best to have “extra” tomato sauce (heated) at the table when serving for those who prefer to add extra tomato sauce on top.
  5. Can we make this rice ball casserole healthier? You can also make this a little healthier and less fattening, you can use ground veal, chicken, or turkey, but my husband says “it’s not Sicilian if you don’t use beef! “..Lol… Either way, this is a dish everyone should try!

WATCH VIDEO: How to Make our Rice Ball Casserole? (1-minute):

More Comfort Food You’ll Love… 

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Best Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas

Best Rice Ball Casserole Stuffed with Meat and Peas

This Rice Ball Casserole is made with a blend of cooked rice, chopped meat, peas, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Then baked until the mozzarella on top is melted. YUM! An easier alternative to making the original Italian/Sicilian rice balls!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • FOR THE RICE MIXTURE:
  • 3 cups organic long grain rice uncooked
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
  • FOR THE MEAT and PEAS MIXTURE:
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 garlic clove- diced
  • 1 medium onion- chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 28-ounces (3 + 1/2 cups) Mom's Quick Marinara Sauce - divided
  • 2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano grated cheese
  • organic olive oil cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1+ 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • extra marinara sauce heated, for serving

Instructions

  1. First, cook the rice with 6 cups of water, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and follow the directions on the package. Transfer rice to a large mixing bowl, add the butter, mix, and set aside to cool.
  2. In the meantime, using a medium skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook meat until browned and well cooked. Using a wooden spoon, break the chopped meat while cooking. Season with salt and pepper. Add peas and 8 ounces (1 cup) of tomato sauce. Cover with a lid and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, (204 C).
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine rice with eggs, pecorino cheese, 8-ounces (1 cup) of marinara sauce, and mix well. Rice will be sticky.
  5. Spray a 13 x 9 casserole dish, including all four sides, with cooking spray. Add breadcrumbs to the baking dish, roll the dish until bottom and all sides are coated with breadcrumbs.
  6. Take half of the rice mixture and cover the bottom of the dish and pressing down to form a layer.
  7. Add the entire meat and peas mixture to cover the rice. Spread an additional ladle (or about 1/2 cup, or more if needed) of marinara sauce over the meat and peas mixture. Then scatter with a layer of shredded mozzarella on top.
  8. Add the remaining rice and press with the back of a spoon until the layer is even.
  9. Top with remaining marinara sauce. Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and top with a layer of shredded mozzarella.
  10. Cover with foil and Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove foil and BAKE for another 5 minutes, until the mozzarella is melted. Remove and cut into 12 squares. Serve with extra sauce heated.
  11. Serves 8 to 12

Notes

To Make Ahead: Make this rice ball casserole up to 1 day ahead. Keep it covered and chilled in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it.

To Freeze: You can make 1 large casserole, or divide this recipe into 2 smaller trays and bake one for dinner and the other, freeze it before baking. 

To Store: Always allow the casserole to cool completely before covering and storing. Then cover with aluminum foil and refrigerator or freeze. It freezes well and for up to 1 month.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10 to 12 servings

Serving Size:

1 serving

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 413Total Fat: 14.1gSaturated Fat: 5.9gCarbohydrates: 50.7gFiber: 3.3gSugar: 7.2gProtein: 19.5g

Did you make this recipe?

Mention @2sistersrecipes on Instagram or tag #2sistersrecipes!

a piece of the rice ball casserole on a white plate, and skillet filled with meat and peas.

Hello friends!  Are you cooking or baking with us?  If you make our best rice ball casserole stuffed with meat and peas, let us know and leave a comment and a star rating! Snap a photo and hashtag it on Instagram; be sure to tag us @2sistersrecipes, and on Pinterest.  

Happy Cooking!  🙂

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48 Comments

    1. Hi Kate,
      The butter in this recipe is mixed into the rice to keep the rice moist. I hope this helps!

  1. I plan to make this, but I have a question. I know you say to have plenty of sauce on hand, but how much total? The recipe calls for 24 oz., but I see 4 additions of sauce in the recipe, three 1-cup additions plus the last one says add remaining sauce, so that would be 8 oz x 3 = 24 oz plus the remaining ? oz. I don’t want to start if I need more than 24 oz, so I will wait til I make or buy more. Thank you so much; I can’t wait to make this!

    1. Hi Ann Marie,
      Welcome to our blog! It’s so nice to meet you! Yes, 24-ounces of sauce will be enough. (I had to read the recipe just to see if I missed something)
      Also, if you have extra tomato sauce, you can add an additional spoonful on top of each piece when serving, that’s the way I prefer it – but that’s just me! – I love it when it’s smothered in tomato sauce. 🙂 … So you can go ahead and make it! ENJOY!!

    2. I noticed that as well, but then I reread and the rice mixture calls for 8oz of “tomato sauce” versus marinara sauce so I was wondering if the ingredients are missing the 8oz can of tomato sauce or if it actually is supposed to be 32oz of marinara plus extra for topping.

      1. Hey Kerri! Thanks for bringing that up. I will go in and edit that! It is the “marinara sauce” that is mixed in with the rice.

      2. Hi Kerri,
        Thanks again! I went in and edited the recipe, it should be 28oz of prepared marinara sauce, plus extra for serving.

  2. This looks so good. I am making it tomorrow! Gluten free here and haven’t had a rice ball in a long time. Can’t wait!

    1. Thank you, Maria, and welcome to our blog! It’s so nice to meet you! Enjoy this recipe- it’s one of our favorites! 🙂

  3. Have a family member with severe egg allergies, what could I substitute the eggs with to make this dish? Thank you!

    1. Hello Hongchao!
      Great question! I have never made this casserole without the eggs, so I called my Aunt Tina ( my dad’s sister who is 96 and still makes her famous rice balls…. and she recommends to add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of butter to the rice mixture. The eggs is to bind the rice mixture a little, and to keep them moist while bakiing. So the butter will make this casserole a little more creamer with the additional butter added.

      OR, Option #2 : and this is my guess. Add an additional cup of tomato sauce to the rice mixture, and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese ( you already added percorino) to the rice mixture. That will keep the rice moist while baking. I hope this helps! 🙂
      Please come back and let me know if any these options have worked for you, because it will help others who read these comments and who may have the same allegy to eggs. Thanks so much!

      1. Thank you so much! I will update you how it turns out after I make it. Need to go get some parmesan cheese 🙂

        1. Hi Pam, I am not too sure about changing this casserole without changing the texture and flavor. But if I had to make a guess, maybe you can replace the rice with “cauliflower rice” and bind it with the eggs, butter, and cheese as it is in the recipe. If you make our casserole with the cauliflower rice, please come back and tell us the outcome. It will help so many who follow the keto diet. Thanks so much! Good luck 🙂

  4. This is a great idea for any leftover rice. Love it. I even have some leftover ricotta mixture from making involtini that would be a nice extra layer? Great and comforting. Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Mimi!! That’s sounds delicious! Same to you, have a Happy and Healthy New Year!!

    1. Hello Silvana, I think you can freeze it before you bake it, (and freeze only up to 2 weeks). Then put it into the fridge overnight to defrost. Let is sit on the counter for at least one to 2 hours before baking it. Keep in mind, it may need more baking time as well. Then I would serve it with some additional tomato sauce at the table to add on top of each serving. Usually rice absorbs most of the sauce and it may get dry after you freeze it (it’s just a guess). I have never frozen this dish, so I am just guessing here. Please let us know how it turns out for you! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Anna and Liz, is it ok to use instant rice? If so, it calls for 3 cups rice and 3 cups water. It is the Minute brand premium long grain instant rice. OR, is the long cooking long grain tastier?

    1. Hi Karen, I hope this is not too late. I have never used instant rice for anything and really can’t say how it will work with this recipe. We prefer only to use the long grain rice. But if you want to test it to see if instant rice will work, try using 1/4 of the ingredients and make a very very small casserole. I hope this will helps.

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  7. This looks delicious! Might add some chopped red bell pepper with the onion, but this recipe sounds like pure comfort food! I love a dinner where I can clean up while it cooks!😊

    1. We are so glad you like this recipe !! It is a satisfying meal – perfect crowd pleaser too!
      Enjoy and thank you for taking the time to write a comment!

  8. HI Ladies! I made this rice dish for friends, and they loved it, thanks and keep the recipes coming!
    Mike G

  9. Thank you Vicki and welcome to our blog! You're absolutely right, this casserole is comfort food for sure! We hope to see you again real soon, enjoy. We'll stop by your place to see whats cooking too.