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Arancini, the cult Sicilian dish

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These glorified deep-fried stuffed rice croquettes are a cult sicilian dish celebrated in a recent best-selling Italian novel.

To most tourists, this is street food. You don't really get arancinis in restaurants. But to Sicilians, this is a national sicilian emblem, cooked with time and love by their mothers and grandmothers. Everybody knows a person 'who makes the best arancinis'.

It could be preposterous for a Swiss to try and make such a difficult and symbolic dish, but I came well-equipped with some tastings and the absolute reference on Sicilian cuisine, Il diamante della grande cucina di Sicilia (The Diamond of the Great Cuisine of Sicily), written by Sicilian theater director with a passion for food Pino Correnti. Each recipe is explained in great details, with all the technicalities and tours-de-main as well as ample historical background.

What brought these glorified deep-fried stuffed rice croquettes such reverence? I am not sure. But they certainly hold a high status in Sicily. The most widely read author in Italia, Camilleri, whose 'Montalbano' detective novels fostered a hugely successful string of 12 movies, wrote one of the novels around this dish. In 'Gli arancini di Montalbano', the commissioner Montalbano goes to great lengths to ensure he can accept the invitation to eat arancinis on New Year's Eve at one of his informants' mother's house.

Montalbano has to lie to his girlfriend who organised him a romantic trip to Paris, lie to his boss and forge evidence to ensure he gets his arancinis. On the picture above you see the mother preparing the arancinis in the final scene. You can download the episode from the RAI TV website if your Italian is any good.

Here is the paragraph in the book:

Gesł, gli arancini di Adelina! Li aveva assaggiati solo una volta: un ricordo che sicuramente gli era trasłto nel Dna, nel patrimonio genetico. Adelina ci metteva due jornate sane sane a pripararli. Ne sapeva, a memoria, la ricetta. Il giorno avanti si fa un aggrassato di vitellone e di maiale in parti uguali che deve cņciri a foco lentissimo per ore e ore con cipolla, pummadoro, sedano, prezzemolo e basilico. Il giorno appresso si pripara un risotto, quello che chiamano alla milanisa (senza zaffirano, Pi caritą!), lo si versa sopra a una tavola, ci si impastano le ova e lo si fa rifriddąre. Intanto si cņcino i pisellini, si fa una besciamella, si riducono a pezzettini ‘na poco di fette di salame e si fa tutta una composta con la carne aggrassata, triturata a mano con la mezzaluna (nenti frullatore, Pi caritą di Dio!). Il suco della carne s’ammisca col risotto. A questo punto si piglia tanticchia di risotto, s’assistema nel palmo d'una mano fatta a conca, ci si mette dentro quanto un cucchiaio di composta e si copre con dell’altro riso a formare una bella palla. Ogni palla la si fa rotolare nella farina, poi si passa nel bianco d'ovo e nel pane grattato. Doppo, tutti gli arancini s'infilano in una padeddra d’oglio bollente e si fanno friggere fino a quando pigliano un colore d'oro vecchio. Si lasciano scolare sulla carta. E alla fine, ringraziannu u Signiruzzu, si mangiano! Montalbano non ebbe dubbio con chi cenare la notte di capodanno. Solo una domanda l’angustiņ prima di pigliare sonno: i due delinquenti figli d’Adelina ce l'avrebbero fatta a restare in libertą fino al giorno appresso?


The recipe takes 2 days to cook. The day before I made the risotto and the ragł according to the stringent specifications of the Diamante. Then you let it rest in the fridge for a night, and prepare the workspace for the next day. If you don't have space in your kitchen or live with only one plate, don't try this. You have no less than 7 bowls around the frying machine: risotto, ragł, cheese cubes, flour, beaten eggs, water and the breadcrumbs.

Here is the recipe. The amount of rice relative to the meat filling depends on how much you manage to stuff each arancino.

ARANCINI AL RISO
For the risotto:
1 onion, finely minced
20gr butter
2 cups risotto rice
4 cups chicken broth
150gr grated Pecorino cheese

For the ragł:
50gr pancetta
1 onion
1 carot
1 celery stick
1 clove garlic, minced
200gr beef chuck
1 cup tomato purée
1 cup red wine
2 twigs thyme
1 bay leaf
salt, pepper
1 cup cooked green peas

When making the arancini:
1 cup flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 eggs, beaten
200gr cheese, soft pecorino or other meltable cheese

The day before, make the risotto by frying the minced onion gently in a saucepan, then adding the uncooked rice and leaving it for two more minutes, then adding the broth and leaving it unocvered until cooked. Do not add saffron. When cold add the grated pecorino, cover and store in the frige until the next day. While you make the risotto, prepare the ragł. Fry pancetta, minced onion and garlic until soft. Gradually add finely minced chuck meat so that it will brown without releasing too much liquid at once. When all meat has been browned in this way, add minced carrot and celery stick and fry for 5 more minutes. Pour the red wine and let cook for 2 minute until alcool has evaporated. Add tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and leave to cook on lowest flame for 1 hours or until meat is soft. Store in the fridge until next day.

The next day, heat 2 liters (2 quarts) oil to 180°C in a pan and prepare 7 bowls:

Bowl 1: Cold risotto
Bowl 2: Ragł
Bowl 3: Diced cheese
Bowl 4: Flour
Bowl 5: Beaten eggs
Bowl 6: Breadcrumbs
Bowl 7: Water

To make an arancino, take two tablespoons of risotto in one hand, make a hole with a finger and stuff it with ragł and 1-2 cheese cubes. Close the hole with the risotto until you have a small ball with no ragł in sight. Some people make little volcanoes as you see in the picture above. Roll the arancino in the flour, shake it to remove excess flour, then quickly dip into the beaten eggs and check it is thoroughly covered on all its surface. If not, dip again in the eggs until it is. Then just roll in breadcrumbs to make a nice crust and deep fry until nicely brown.

Making arancini is not difficult and does not require special skill. Your first arancini will be very 'ricy'. The name of the game is to get as much filling in as little risotto possible. If you keep trying, each arancino will be better than the last one. Good luck!


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31 Comments

I will try to make some arancini.But I did already eat arancini with other stuff than ragu.Did you ever try 4 cheeses arancini or chicken?Thanks for the recipe.
  • #2
  • Comment by Jelsia Caprio Cortese
Thank you very much.  Jelsia
  • #3
  • Comment by STELLA VENRICK
Hello,Since I discover your web page I have enjoyed it very much with all your wonderful recipies and advices.Thanks so much because I learned how to prepare pistacio pasta with few changes, but now I can do it myself and next one I am going to try is the persian rice. I will let you know how it was and if I can I will send you a pic.You have gained a serious lector of your site.My best wishes and again thanks a lot,Stella
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Thank you Stella, let me know how these dishes work for you!
Gli arancini di Pachino ancora poco conosciuti sono conditi con passata pomodorini Pachino, il ragu fatto di carni allevate negli altopiani ragusani il tutto immerso nell'olio extra vergine di oliva al palato sembra di ricevere un bacio lussurioso di venere una vera squisitezza
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Rosario, grazie per visitare il mio blog, se mi potessi dare una ricetta di questi maravigliosi arancini di Pachino, sarei molto lieto di cucinarli!
  • #7
  • Comment by Jaime Wallace
Thank you for posting this recipe: The others I have seen have been westonised and don't really look Sicilian either.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Jaime I will try to post another version someday, with fish inside. It is so authentic that non-Sicilians don't think it's real as we are used to the regular ragł-cheese-green peas version. Good luck when you try it, it's a memorable dish!
  • #9
  • Comment by Pete
I'm going to Catania next week. Flying from U.K. to Palermo then whisked off to Acicastello. Your website has whetted my appetite again. I know Catania well, Spinella (on the corner of Via Umberto and Via Etnea)is a great place for conical arancini. Or maybe it's the place next door, to be honest I have never had a dodgy one. I particularly like the 'salmone' if I'm being truthful. Cheers Pete.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Pete, I wish you fun in Sicily!
  • #11
  • Comment by Davide
To Pete. Cheers, Pete. Surely you're back from your trip to Sicily. I'm from Catania, and the place next door to Spinella you mention in your comment is named Savia, it is one of the oldest cafés-patisserie in Catania, and of course it serves the best arancini of the whole city! Hope you had fun in my city and come back soon.

To Franēois-Xavier. Ciao FX, č bello vedere qualcuno parlare di cucina italiana con tanta competenza e tanta passione. Spero che continui il tuo lavoro e tornerņ a visitare spesso questo tuo blog.

Davide
  • FX's answer→ Grazie per il complimento, Davide!

  • #13
  • Comment by Janice
Just back from Catania and I crave these 24/7.  I will try to make some of these with the wonderful sicilan wine I brought back.  I left a bit of my heart in Sicily, everyone asks me what was the best part and I answer very quickly the people...I will be back very soon....
  • FX's answer→ Yes, fine people most of them!

  • #15
  • Comment by Toni
I lived in Sicily for a while a lifetime ago, and I miss the food terribly.  Everytime I think about it and try to describe the dishes my mouth begins to water.  One day I might make it back, but until then I will have to try to make it myself and hope I can do it justice.
  • #16
  • Comment by michael weiderman
Thank you for the recipe.I have eaten rice balls my friends mother had made. I love them hot or cold, I was going to make them with just a desription of how my friends mother made them. Now with a bit more information they should come out much  better.    
  • #17
  • Comment by matthew
why not add saffron? i know saffron risotto is milanese and arancini is sicilian but is there a deeper reason for this? thanks and i LOVE this recipe by the way.
  • FX's answer→ The reason is strictly cultural. Emblematic dishes such as these are an important part of how each part of Italy defines its own identity, often by opposition to another, very similar dish made in another part of Italy. But there is no gastronomical reason, as far as I can see, not to use saffron.

  • #19
  • Comment by anne lewis
I ate these as a child when i lived in Sicily years ago and as a child didnt know what they were called. We often got them from street vendors or little cafes in Palermo or Catania. For years now I have been searching for them and the recipe. Maybe one of these years I will be able to go back and enjoy the sights and food of Sicily again. Thank you so much for posting this recipe I will have to try to make them and day dream of the nites sitting on the balcony watching Mt. Etna's lava flow and walking through the beautiful cities. Thank you once again.
  • FX's answer→ Anne, if you follow the recipe precisely you should find a piece of your Sicilian childhood in your mouth!

  • #21
  • Comment by Andrew
1) where is saffron mentioned in the ingredients? So why "do not add saffron"?

2) where does the bowl of water (bowl 7) figure in the instructions (unless to rinse your fingers after each 'little orange'? (I would have thought that was obvious - or would become so).
  • FX's answer→ Andrew, it says "do not add saffron" because many people make the mistake of adding it, not because it is in the ingredient lists (it isn't as you could see for yourself).

  • #23
  • Comment by Nancy
I am in the process of making the arancini - my husband is Sicilian and I am hoping that he will enjoy a little taste of his past!
Thank you for the recipe and wish me luck!

Grazie!

Nancy
  • #24
  • Comment by Nancy
Hi there!
Could you describe the consistency of the ragu?  and also if tomato paste and puree are the same?

Thanks again!
  • #25
  • Comment by ceci
Ciao Carissimo!
Como te dije te descubrķ solo hoy y quedo mįs maravillada aśn que tengas estas recetas de Montalbano...Io ho letto quasi tutta la collezione! MI paice da morire!
Es increible lo que Salvuccio(espero Camilleri no se eonje por que le llamo asķ al Commissario,visto  que nadie mįs lo hace...) haya hecho TANTAS cosas solo para estar con Adelina en a~no nuevo y comer estas arancine!!!
Grazie!
  • #26
  • Comment by Louise
Arancini remind me of my grandmother who made these often.  My grandmother was born in Vizzini, Sicily and when she made her arancini, after frying them, she would roll them in sugar...never with sauce.  Whenever I make these, I ALWAYS roll mine in sugar just like nonnina.
  • #27
  • Comment by levy
We made arancini with rissotto leftover, put somo chop onions, pasley, a piece of mozarella cheese in the center , tham shape like a ball and fry
AWASOME
our Nonna used to do it like that we don't thorugh out any food
  • #28
  • Comment by Wendy
There's a restaurant down the street from me here in Oakland, California, that makes these. Theirs are about the size of real oranges, and the filling varies, probably due to whatever they had left over from the day before, as the restaurant's menu changes daily. Anyhow, they're delicious! Yours is the most persuasive recipe I found online, and I see no reason why a Swiss can't make anything.  I lived years ago in Basel, and it was gastronomically (and in many other ways) revelatory. Oh gosh, I wish I could get a good Kremschnitte here.  Thank you!
  • #29
  • Comment by Nicole
I'll be trying this recipe soon. I'm lucky enough to live an Italian neighborhood, so I've been eating these things for a long time without realizing that they were special (in my area we just call them "rice balls" most pizza places have them) and the restaurants in my area (Northern NJ) make them about as big or bigger than a grapefruit. Thanks, I always did wonder how they were made!
  • #30
  • Comment by Clement
This looks sooo good !!! If only I could taste it !
  • FX's answer→ Clement you can cook it at home very easily (well almost easily).




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