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?
Was it a glorious Italian grandma? Well, not quite. 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.
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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!
250 g short-grain rice
2 tbsp olive oil
750ml vegetable stock
For the filling:
300g minced meat
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small carrot
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
150 g peas
Salt and pepper
100 g flour
Grease for frying
For the filling:
Peel the onion and garlic and dice them finely. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the ground beef and cook crumbly.
Peel the carrot and grate it finely. Add it to the pan together with oregano, peas and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper and let it simmer into a paste-like sauce while stirring. If necessary, add some water.
For the rice:
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan, peel the onion and chop finely and sauté it until glassy.
Add the rice and gradually pour the vegetable broth. Let it simmer until the rice gets slightly "mushy" but still has bite.
Let the rice cool slightly and then stir in the ricotta and the egg. For each ball, take 1 tablespoon of risotto in the palm and press it flat. Place one tablespoon of the filling in the center of the rice and cover it with another tablespoon of rice. Use both hands to form smooth, round balls about the size of an orange. Make sure that no filling flows out of the rice ball.
Roll the rice balls in flour, then through the beaten eggs and finally press them into the bread crumbs.
Heat the grease in the fryer to about 180° C. Fry the rice balls for approx. 4 minutes until they turn golden brown. Take them out of the fryer and let them drain on paper towels.
Kibbeh from the Middle East – do you want to share your knowledge on Kibbeh? Get in touch!
Photos by stu_spivack