As you are strolling through the narrow streets of one of the beautiful old towns in the south of Italy, you might be wondering what those big fried orange balls and cones are that are displayed in many of the cafés and bakeries. The answer is that you have just discovered one of the most iconic foods of Sicily: Arancini!
Arancini are deep fried and stuffed rice balls. The name means “little oranges” as this is what they remind of. Arancini belong to the traditional Sicilian cuisine and are either spherical or conical depending on the province.
The most common filling is “Ragù” with ground beef, peas and carrots. There are many other versions as well with mozzarella, ham and Bechamelle or with mozzarella and spinach for example. Especially around Catania there are arancini with aubergine and pistachio filling. Again depending on the region, the fried rice balls are either served plain as finger food or in tomato sauce. For the sweet lovers out there, there are even versions with cocoa and powdered sugar prepared for the celebration of Santa Lucia.
Who came up with Arancini?
Together with the introduction of rice, the Arab invaders also brought the concept of Arancini to Sicily in the 10th century. The dish was mainly based on the Levantine Kibbeh and was adapted by the locals over time to how we know the fried balls today.
However, the dish did not only gain so much popularity because of its incredible taste. It was also a very practical way to use up leftover risotto. And for the hard, daylong work out in the fields or on fishing boats, Arancini were a perfect portable, high-energy snack.
If your mouth is watering already and there is no trip to Sicily in sight, give it a try yourself. While our recipe focuses on the most common version, the possibilities for the filling are simply endless. Just be creative about it and make it your own!
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Photos by stu_spivack