If you are unfamiliar with arancini, you are not alone. This authentic Italian dish has been overlooked in the past but is now becoming more and more popular. In fact, you can find these rice balls everywhere from high-end Italian restaurants to the corner pizza store
History of the Sicilian Stuffed Rice Balls
At its core, it is simply a ball of rice that is breaded and fried. They are said to have originated in Sicily around the 10th century when the tiny island was actually under Arab reign.
However, other accounts have arancini first being created in the Campania region of southern Italy where the people simply referred to them as “palle di riso”. However, it was definitively Sicily which first dubbed the food “arancini” (pronounced air-an-c-ni) which translates to mean little orange. The name stuck as the balls of rice certainly do look like oranges in color as well as shape.
Arancini were an instant staple in Italy as they were easy to make and inexpensive. They became the traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia when Sicily celebrates the day in 1646 when a grain supply ship arrived to relieve severe famine which had overtaken the island.
On December 13th of every year, bread and pasta are not eaten in memory of those hard times. Arancini takes center stage as an example of what the Island was sustaining on and how the people survived.
Different Versions of the Famous Street Food
The traditional version of this Sicilian street food consists of rice, meat, peas, tomato passata and mozzarella, rolled together to form a round ball, breaded and then fried.
This is the most popular type and what most people think of when they see “Arancini” on a menu. However, there is another, very conventional way of making arancini and that is to use a white bechamel sauce in place of tomato-based sauce.
These al burro or ‘with butter’ arancini are rolled into a pear shape before breading and cooking which make them clear to distinguish from the ones containing tomato.
Apart from the traditional arancini recipe, you can also find others filled with mushrooms, sausage, peas or even pistachios. Many chefs also like to play with cheese varieties, like using grated parmesan cheese, spices and even vary the shape of the arancini to create a signature dish. It is frequently made using old risotto of any type as it is the perfect texture to mold and form a ball.
However, despite the combination of fillings and spices, arancini are all essentially the same- rice mixed with a sauce, compacted and breaded then fried to perfection!
How to Make Them
1. Cook the Rice
Sicilian cook mixing just boiled rice with butter
2. Place the ingredients on a tray
The making of Sicilian arancini: Italian ragu, peas and cheese cubes placed on the table of a Sicilian cook and the boiled rice in the background
3. How to make the arancini
Hands of cook modeling a typical Sicilian rice arancino in a cone shape
Here’s the shape of the traditional arancino
submerse them in the batter
Cover a typical Sicilian arancino with bread crumbs before frying it
Here’s the traditional shape of the Sicilian ball.
Arancini is most frequently fried either in a sauté pan or deep-fried.
Since the rice and filling are already cooked before being formed, the center of the ball just needs to get slightly hot and the outside should become a perfect golden brown.
The cooking time may vary depending on how large the ball is, so look for the color of the breaded exterior as the cue for when it is done.
You can bake arancini rather than fry them for a healthier version. However, the outside will never get truly crispy as a traditional version is supposed to be. It is that thin, crisp outside with a molten, soft center that you are looking for. Baking will work but at a slight cost to the texture of the final product.
Traditional Arancini Recipe - Sicilian Rice Balls
Arancini, or arancine as Sicilians correctly call these fried risotto balls, are one of the most authentic and world-famous Sicilian street food.
Cook the Arborio rice as instructed in the rice bag, making sure all the water is completely absorbed.
Once the rice is ready, add the butter and mix with the rice until it's completely melted.
Lay the rice on a large and shallow tray, cover it with a plastic film wrap and let it cool down for about 2 hours.
In the meantime, stir the Bolognese sauce with the peas. If it is too liquid, then make it simmer on a small pot until it's dense.
When you are ready to form the arancini, take a scoop of the rice and place it in your palm. Flatten it and then place about a teaspoon of Bolognese sauce and peas along with a piece of mozzarella in the center.
Close the rice around the fillings and then gently shape into a cone or a ball. Repeat with the remaining rice and fillings. Place the rice ball on a large tray.
Now that all the arancini balls are ready, let's prepare the pastella (the batter). On a medium ball combine 2 cups of sifted flour with 1 1/4 cups of water and salt, mixing it until fully combined.
Submerge the arancini one by one in the batter, and roll them into the breadcrumbs until they are fully covered. Now lay them covered with bread crumbs on a baking sheet tray.
In a deep pan, warm up the oil. When the oil is at 340 F you can now fry the arancini in the hot oil until they turn golden brown.
Remove from the hot oil and lay it on a paper towel-lined baking sheet tray. Serve while hot with any excess Bolognese ragù you have left.