Seasonal Flavors: Arancini

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Years ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Sicily, the birthplace of my grandparents.

The rest of Europe, in my experience, is so orderly, even the forest trees are lined up in a row. Things are clean, historic, civilized, prim and proper. Sicily, on the other hand, is wild and wonderful. Few roads, lots of ruins, alas a lot of trash on some of the beaches, and high unemployment, but no one goes hungry because family ties are so strong. We encountered goats being driven down the lanes by donkey-riding herders and guys drinking beer and an espresso, in the open air cafes at eight o’clock in the morning.  I loved it.  

One of the joys of roaming the streets are the food stalls—lots of pizza by the “square” and wonderful rice morsels called arancini. The word means “orange” because these tasty mouthfuls look like citrus fruit. They are fist-sized balls of rice, filled with meat and red sauce, or a soft cheese, and then fried until golden orange. We were served them as part of a Sunday dinner, but they were also available any day of the week at one of the food stalls.

I was so enamored that when I returned, I told my siblings and we decided to serve arancini at a gala birthday dinner we cooked for our uncle Alfonso. I said to my dad, “Look at this wonderful dish I learned about in Sicily.”  Dad replied, “Oh yeah, arancini.  My mother used to make them.”  

“What?”  I replied.  “Why didn’t you ever make them?” (Grandmother Rose having died when I was five years old)

“I don’t like rice,” he said.

At our gala dinner, he proceeded to eat three arancini. Grrrrrrr.

Here is the recipe, adapted from an Italian regional cookbook. Think Sunday dinner and serve with roasted meat and a pile of vegetables. 

Arancini

  • 1 ½ cup white rice
  • 3 cups water
  • Pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 T butter
  • 2/3 cup grated 
  • parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, each beaten separately
  • ½ cup cubed provolone or mozzarella cheese (about six thumb-sized cubes)
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 cups canola oil for frying

Bring the water to a boil.  Add the rice, saffron, salt, and butter.  Simmer gently till cooked, about 15 minutes.

Add the parmesan and one of the beaten eggs.

When cool enough to handle, use about a half cup of rice and form into a ball.  Poke a hole into the ball and add a cube of the cheese, then seal the hole; repeat with the remaining rice and cheese.

Roll the rice balls in the other beaten egg and then in the bread crumbs.

Heat the oil in a deep fry pan and fry the arancini until golden brown.  Keep warm in a preheated oven until ready to serve.

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