A Delicious Sicilian Treat
If you find yourself in Sicily, chances are you’ll come across arancini, the iconic savory rice balls that have become a staple of Sicilian cuisine. These big, golden balls of rice are filled with a variety of savory ingredients and are rolled in breadcrumbs before being fried to perfection. Although the origins of arancini are not entirely clear, they are thought to have originated in Sicily during the Arab rule of the island in the 9th and 11th centuries.
Arancini come in different shapes and sizes, with the most common being the cone-shaped arancini found in eastern Sicily and the round arancine found in Palermo and western Sicily. The name arancini is derived from the Italian word for orange, arancia, which refers to the similarity in visual appearance and color to the fruit.
The preparation of arancini involves three main steps: making saffron risotto, preparing a meat sauce, and dicing ham and mozzarella. The risotto must be made in advance and allowed to cool before being used. Once the ingredients are prepared, they are assembled into the rice balls and fried until golden brown.
The fillings for arancini vary depending on the region and personal preference. The most common fillings include meat sauce with peas, dried prosciutto, cheeses such as mozzarella and pecorino, tomatoes, or dried capers. In recent years, more creative variations have emerged, such as arancini with swordfish or pistachio, as well as vegetarian options.
Arancini are a popular street food in Sicily and can be found at street carts throughout the region. Every year on December 13th, a festival of Santa Lucia is held in Palermo, where the city is filled with kiosks and carts selling arancini that are prepared specifically for the festival. During the festival, a sweet version of the dish is also available, which is dusted with cocoa and sugar.
While the exact origins of arancini remain a mystery, what is clear is that they have become an integral part of Sicilian cuisine. Whether you prefer the cone-shaped arancini of eastern Sicily or the round arancine of Palermo, there is no denying the deliciousness of these savory rice balls.
Here's a recipe for arancini filled with either cheese and jam or meat:
- 2 cups cooked arborio rice
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
- 1/4 cup jam (for cheese and jam arancini) or 1/4 cup cooked ground meat (for meat arancini)
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, Parmesan cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix until well combined.
- To make the cheese and jam arancini, take a tablespoon of the rice mixture and form it into a ball. Press a small indentation in the center of the ball and fill it with a cube of mozzarella cheese and a small spoonful of jam. Close the ball around the filling and roll it in your hands to make it smooth. Repeat until all the rice mixture is used.
- To make the meat arancini, take a tablespoon of the rice mixture and form it into a ball. Press a small indentation in the center of the ball and fill it with a small spoonful of cooked ground meat. Close the ball around the filling and roll it in your hands to make it smooth. Repeat until all the rice mixture is used.
- Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a deep pot or fryer over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, carefully add the arancini, a few at a time, and fry until golden brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
- Serve the arancini warm, garnished with additional parsley if desired. Enjoy!