How are Sicilian rice balls made? Discover with me the authentic arancini recipe!
Sicilian arancini are a typical delicacy based on ingredients considered “popular” such as rice and meat sauce. The traditional arancini recipe calls for the addition of peas and caciocavallo cheese. A popular variant is also the one that uses diced ham and mozzarella as a filling. Despite the use of such simple ingredients, the result you get is something really special.
This typical Sicilian food product has been included in the PAT list, the list of traditional food products, by the MiPAAF, the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Arancini are so loved and appreciated in Italy and around the world that they have become one of the most revisited foods, even as a star dish.
Among the starred reinterpretations are arancini with mullet ragout and wild fennel, arancini with urchin meat, red prawns and mozzarella, arancini with cuttlefish ink, pea cream and buffalo mozzarella, arancini with cous cous or arancini stuffed with cuttlefish and prawns from Mazara but made with black artemide rice.
In addition to the gourmet ones, the list of which would be much longer than that, there are some more traditional Sicilian arancini variants using Bronte Pistachio PDO, especially in the Bronte and Etna areas. There is a variant with mushrooms, sausage and gorgonzola, but also others with chicken, salmon, swordfish, seafood, pesto, shrimps and much more!
Finally, there are also sweet variants such as the one made in honour of the feast of Saint Lucy in which cocoa and a sugar coating is used. Other sweet preparations involve the use of gianduja or black cherry chocolate for the filling.
But now let us focus on the authentic arancini recipe and what tradition has actually created. A special product with an intense flavour, a soft texture but with a crispy breadcrumbs, a stringy inside and an extremely tasty appearance. In short, a real treat!
🧳 Travel and savour arancini siciliani, with Italia Delight!
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The history of Sicilian rice balls is really complex, unlike what you might think! There are in fact many cities in Sicily that claim to have invented it. From a historical point of view, the birth of arancini dates back to the period of Arab domination of Sicily, between the 9th and 11th centuries. Apparently, the Arabs used to roll grains of rice with saffron after stuffing them with meat.
Today, the debate is still open as to what is really the most correct term for this popular Sicilian delicacy. In the area of Palermo and its surroundings, Sicilian arancini are called “the arancine siciliane” (female noun), taking their name from their rounded shape reminiscent of oranges. In the area of Catania and the surrounding area, Sicilian arancini are called “the arancini” (male noun), with a conical shape that symbolically represents Mount Etna.
In an attempt to appease this diatribe, the Accademia della Crusca recently came out in favour of the city of Palermo (and the female noun: “arancina”), but this has not been enough to stop the ongoing attempt to claim the origin of arancini balls and thus, of what is really their correct name.
The Italian culinary tradition is very rich in products similar to Sicilian arancini. Just think of the supplì, a typical Roman speciality. Both arancini and supplì are fried rice balls whose filling consists of meat sauce. So where is the difference? Arancini are filled with meat sauce, peas and caciocavallo cheese, but their rice is only seasoned with saffron, unlike supplì in which the meat sauce does not serve as a filling for the rice, but as a condiment. The supplì filling is in fact the stringy mozzarella, which creates that pleasant effect typical only of the best “supplì al telefono”.
The weight of arancini rice balls can vary from 160g if you eat it homemade, up to the 230g of the arancini you buy in the many Italian rotisseries that prepare them. A significantly higher weight compared to the “only” 100g of supplì! Their price, moreover, is around 2.50€.
In Sicily, arancini are eaten at all hours. It can be eaten as a single dish during meals, as an appetiser, as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. How can you resist this delicacy!
Stay with me because now we will discover all the tricks to make this magnificent dish, following the authentic arancini recipe!
The original Sicilian arancini recipe
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The moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived! Are you ready to take note of how to make arancini? The recipe we will prepare is the more traditional one, with meat sauce, peas and caciocavallo cheese.
Quantity: 15 pieces
Preparation: about three hours
Cooking method: frying
Cooking time: 7 minutes per pieces
Ingredients for the meat sauce
The ingredients you will need for the meat sauce are:
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- 2 bay leaves
- 200g peas
- 250g minced pork
- 250g minced beef
- 350ml tomato puree
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 trickle of EVOO
- 100ml white wine
- 160g of grated caciocavallo cheese
- salt to taste
Ingredients for the rice
The ingredients you will need for the rice are:
- 500g Roma rice
- 500g rice Originario
- 2.2 litres of water
- 120g butter
- 2 sachets of saffron
- 1 tablespoon home-made stock cube
- 20g salt
Ingredients for the breadcrumbs
The ingredients you will need for the breadcrumbs are:
- 200g 00 flour
- 300ml water
- 200g of breadcrumbs
- 1 pinch of salt
Ingredients for cooking
The only ingredient you will need for cooking is:
- 500 ml frying oil
Generally, seed oil such as peanut or sunflower oil is used due to their high smoke point. If necessary, olive oil can also be used. The important thing is not to exceed the smoke point, which for olive oil is 195°C.
The oil temperature for cooking the Sicilian arancini, regardless of the type of oil used, should be 180°C. So just be careful not to use a temperature above 180°C and there will be no problem!
The tools you will need are:
- large saucepan for the ragout
- food thermometer to check the temperature of the frying oil
- tray or baking tray for cooling the rice
- large pot for cooking the rice
- tall, narrow pan for frying
- bowl for preparing the batter
- wide container for frying the arancini
The frying pan should be narrow enough so that the Sicilian arancini, fried one at a time, are completely submerged in oil. The alternative for frying several arancini at the same time would be to use a larger frying pan but, in that case, there will have to be much more oil.
It is very important that the Sicilian rice balls float during frying! This will create an even browning and make the product healthier. Simply frying in a frying pan, in fact, brings the food into contact with oxygen and this degrades the oil used for frying, making the food less healthy than one that is completely submerged during frying.
Making the ragout
Finely chop celery, carrot and onion. Add everything to a saucepan with a little extra virgin olive oil and let it fry. Add the minced pork and beef and brown well. Deglaze with white wine and add the tomato puree, bay leaf and tomato paste dissolved in a glass of lukewarm water.
Leave to cook for at least 50 minutes and then add the peas. Add salt together with 2 glasses of lukewarm water and leave to simmer for about 2 hours. At the end of two hours, turn off the heat and add the grated caciocavallo cheese. Stir for a quarter of an hour and then leave the sauce to cool. The result should be a thick, fragrant sauce.
Preparing the rice
Fill a pot with water and add the stock cube, salt, butter and saffron. When the water boils, add the rice and wait for it to come to the boil again. At this point, you will have to stir well and lower the flame to let all the water in the pot slowly dry up. When the water has all evaporated and the rice is cooked, pour it onto the tray or baking tray to cool.
Making the breadcrumbs
Mix the 00 flour with water and salt in a bowl until the batter for Sicilian arancini is smooth, thick and creamy. Finally, pour the breadcrumbs into a large container.
Assembling and cooking arancini siciliani
The time has come to assemble the meat sauce, rice and breadcrumbs to create our Sicilian arancini and prepare them for frying. One tip is to wet your hands to work the rice better.
Take some of the rice and place it on your hand, making a hollow in the centre. Now pour the meat sauce into the hollow and close it by adding some more rice. Try to give it the round shape typical of arancini from Palermo or the conical shape typical of arancini from Catania. To finish, seal everything well.
Proceed in this way until you have finished the rice and sauce. When all the arancini have taken shape, dip them one by one in the batter and finally in the breadcrumbs. At this point, turn on the flame of the pan with the oil for frying.
Once again, watch the temperature! Keep it constantly under control with a food thermometer. When the temperature is 180° C, you can submerge the Sicilian rice balls one at a time and cook them for about 7 minutes.
After this time, you will notice that the breadcrumbs have turned golden and even.
Your Sicilian arancini are ready! It only remains for me to wish you bon appétit!
Tips & Curiosities for the Sicilian rice balls recipe
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– You can freeze the arancini immediately after frying them. First place them on a tray and let them freeze, then place them in airtight freezer bags. To cook them after freezing them, thaw them at room temperature and before frying, roll them again in breadcrumbs without batter.
– To store cooked Sicilian arancini, place them in an airtight container and leave them in the fridge for a maximum of 2-3 days. To store battered and breaded but not yet fried arancini, store them in the fridge in an airtight container but without battering and breadcrumbs. The battering and breadcrumbs should only be done before frying them.
– To reheat the arancini siciliani already fried and stored in the fridge, use the oven. Set the temperature to 180° C or 200° C and use the static or ventilated option.
– You may not use butter when cooking the rice. For a butter-free preparation, you will need some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and an egg. Add them immediately after cooking the rice, but before letting it cool.
– Combine your wonderful Sicilian arancini with a good glass of Sangiovese or Nero di Troia wine and its characteristics will be enhanced to the full! Alternatively, you can drink a dry and fruity Lambrusco di Sorbara.
– If you don’t want to fry your Sicilian arancini in oil, you can use an air fryer by setting the temperature to 200° C after brushing them evenly with a little oil. After 20 minutes, they will be ready! Alternatively, bake them in a static oven preheated to 190° C for about 30 minutes.
Popular Events in Sicily
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On Saint Lucy’s Day in Palermo, you can take an interesting journey to discover this typical Sicilian speciality. The date of the feast is 13 December and, like every year, a delicious smell and mouth-watering sizzle of fried food will come from every kitchen in Palermo!
In Catania instead, more precisely in Ficarazzi, the Festival of Arancini (“Sagra dell’Arancino”) is celebrated. Generally, the festival takes place in September.
Now that you know the Sicilian arancini recipe and all the tips to make them, all you have to do is organise your trip to Sicily! You can prepare them yourself or enjoy them ready-made. Bon appétit 😋
Cover photo: pexels-chiara-boracchi