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Sicilian Arancini recipe: easy homemade rice balls

“Do you know Sicilian arancini?!”. This is one question I always ask to my new guests at my B&B in Catania when I talk about itineraries and suggestions for their holiday in Sicily.

I must admit with some astonishment that some of them have no idea of what an arancino is until I explain to them (and make their mouth watering!).

 

 

Sicilian Arancini

WHAT IS SICILIAN ARANCINI?

 

Arancino (singular, arancini plural) is maybe the most famous traditional dish of Sicily (together with “cannolo” dessert – see my personal recipe here) and it is extremely popular all over Italy, sometimes called supplì (especially in Rome).

It is a deep fried orange size rice ball (or cones of rice) covered with crunchy breadcrumb and filled with meat sauce, cheese (usually provola or swiss cheese, not mozzarella!) and peas. Well, at least this is the authentic arancino – called arancino al sugo – but nowadays you are lucky enough to find many variantions of the classic recipe (such us butter arancino, vegetarian spinach arancino, pistachio arancino or even nutella arancino!)

WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ARANCINI DI RISO?

 

I personally love to read about the origine of a meal especially if this involves past cultures and old habits which, in a certain way, are still connected with ours through the same food we keep enjoying.

Who invented arancini? The history of arancini dates back to the IX/XI centuries, when the arabs dominated Sicily and apparently they loved to eat their saffron flavored rice putting a punch of this on one hand and stuffing it with lamb meat.

The name “arancino” comes from the arab word “naranj” which means orange because at that time, arabs used to call all their “food balls” using fruit names that had similar size. Oranges were already the most popular fruit in Sicilian countryside…

However, until then arancini were prepared without that breadcrumbs which make them so crunchy and tasty. As a matter of fact, it was king Frederick II of Swabia on XIII century the one that “completed” the recipe by adding a golden brieding to it and in fact converting arancino as a perfect sicilian street food for his hunting trips.

 

 

arancino street food in Catania

 

Arancino or Arancina?

If you travel across Sicily you will notice that people living on the western side of the island call this specialty as “arancina”(female)and give it a rounded shape, whereas in the eastern part of Sicily the traditional name is “arancino” (male) and it has a pyramid shape which evokes Etna Volcano.

 

WHERE TO EAT THE BEST ARANCINI IN SICILY?

 

It is super easy to find arancini all over the island, being one of the most popular street food of sicilian cuisine, you will be able to buy arancino almost at each cafè or bakery you will stop by.

Usually arancino is part of a wider category of typically sicilian savoury street food called “Tavola calda” that includes small pizzas, arancini, bolognese (closed stuffed pastry), cartocciata (closed pizzas), bomba (fried ham and cheese panino) etc etc…yummy!!!

 

 

tavola calda at cafes in Catania

 

That said, when it comes to choosing the best place to eat arancino, my personal advice is avoid buying arancino at the airport or autogrill as it will probably be a precooked oily version of this masterpiece and prefer authentic cafes instead.

 

MY PERSONAL TOP TEN BEST ARANCINI (ARANCINE) IN SICILY

 

BAR SAVIA, CATANIA

You cannot leave Catania without tasting arancino at Savia cafè in Via Etnea! This is by far the most popular arancino in town, so it’s no surprise that the trays with arancini keep going back and forth from the kitchen to the counter!

RIFUGIO SAPIENZA, MT ETNA

This is the perfect place for you to try an arancino on high altitude! In fact this restaurant and hotel is located at 2000mt above sea level (6500 feet) and it also organizes the Arancino Feast (Festa dell’arancino) every year in August.

Arancini,©Rifugio Sapienza

ROSTICCERIA DA CRISTINA, TAORMINA

This historic shop in Taormina town centre is pretty hidden from the tourist crowd of the main streets as it is located at the bottom of a narrow stone staircase. If you want to learn the secrets of their arancino’s recipe, you can even book an arancino cooking class with them!

Rosticceria Da Cristina Taormina,©Antonella Ravidà

ROSTICCERIA F.LLI FAMULARI, MESSINA

With over 40 different flavors of arancini, this is one of the oldest bakeries in town. The shop might appear as a bit “rustic” inside but the taste of their specialties is a real luxury! They love to create new flavour combinations and it is difficult to tell which is the best among them…

SFRIGOLA, PALERMO

Recently awarded as the best arancina in Palermo from a popular italian tv show Food Advisor, Sfrigola offers a variety of “modern” arancini versions still looking at the tradition and using great fresh ingredients.

RISTORANTE DA ANGELINO, TRAPANI

Located along Trapani’s main waterfront street -Via Ammiraglio Staiti- near the ferries departure point to Egadi Island, this restaurant/cafè still preserves the authentic taste of sicilian risotto balls plus its menu includes typical sicilian food specialties such us fish cous cous and busiate pasta!

@Ristorante Da Angelino,Trapani

PANIFICIO CARDILLO DALLI’, AGRIGENTO

Just follow the delicious smell in Piazza Pirandello and you will easily find this lovely traditional bakery. Low prices, great variety and amazing genuine tast! This place is a must on your trip to Agrigento.

UMBRIACO TAVOLA CALDA E BOTTEGA, ENNA

This little treasure owned by the “arancinaro” Rosario Umbriaco, is a real example of how innovation merged with quality of local products create new flavors and gourmet experiences. Only at Umbriaco you can find arancini with double layer of rice, basically a matryoshka arancino!

Arancini,©Tavola Calda Umbriaco

BAR PASTICCERIA MIDOLO, SIRACUSA

When visiting Siracusa, this bar represents a mandatory stop to always experience warm freshly baked arancini but also delicious pastries and desserts!

ROSTICCERIA MANCIA E FUI, LIPARI

Aeolian Islands are heaven on earth even for your mouth! The best arancino is defenitely in Lipari island and it has nothing to envy to those eaten on the main island…just paradise!

Arancini,©Rifugio Sapienza

 

WHEN DO YOU EAT ARANCINI IN SICILY?

 

As shown on Inspector Montalbano’s croquettes episode, arancini are often eaten during parties and celebrations; I still remember my childhood’s friends parties where arancini and pizzas could never be missing! That is why these tasty italian rice balls are a perfect idea for appetizer, aperitivo and canapè.

It is a popular tradition in Palermo to eat arancini on the 13th of December, St Lucia day, to honor food and abundance against the memory of past starvation.

Of course, this meal is the king of Sicily street food and people frequently enjoy it on the go. But yet, because of its popularity, there are several arancini festivals and local food fairs across the island to celebrate this masterpiece!

The most famous arancini events in Sicily are: Festa dell’Arancino at Rifugio Sapienza on top of Mt Etna which takes place in August, Sagra dell’Iris e dell’arancino in Tremestieri Etneo (dedicated also to another amazing sicilian fried ball called Iris, which is stuffed with cream or chocolate) in October/November, Sagra dell’Arancino in Rosolini usually in middle August.

 

HOW TO MAKE SICILIAN ARANCINI?

My Personal Recipe

 

 

My arancino inside

 

INGREDIENTS SERVINGS: 8 ARANCINI (DEPENDING ON SIZE)

 

Rice:

250gr Carnaroli rice (or rice for timballo)

1 small bag of saffron powder

A pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of butter

50 gr grated parmisan cheese

Filling:

1 carrot

1 leaf of celery

1 onion

3 table spoons of extra vergin olive oil

300 gr of minced meat or sliced veal and pork meat

Half glass of red wine

100 gr of tomato paste/puree

1 bottle of tomato sauce

A pinch of salt

A pinch of peper

200 gr of caciocavallo cheese (ok also provola or swiss cheese)

150 gr of peas

Breading and frying:

seed oil for frying (3/4 of the pan)

500gr breadcrumb

250ml water

2tbps all purpose wheat

1 pinch salt

METHOD

  1. Prepare the rice

Boil the rice into abundant salted water. Stir it every now and then and cook for roughly 20 minutes and anyway until being “al dente”. Turn off the heat, drain the rice and pour the saffron, the parmesan and the butter, keep stirring until the cheese is melt. Pour the rice into a tray or the kitchen counter, flatten it and let it cool down (the rice needs to be cold when shaping the arancini).

 

rice cooling down

2. Cook the bolognese sauce

This is maybe the most important phase of this recipe as the sweeter and tastier the sauce is the more your arancino will taste delicious!

On a big pan, heat the olive oil, add finely chopped carot, onion and celery and let them dry on low heat for a couple of minutes. Add the minced or sliced meat and season with salt and pepper.

Let the meat cook on the pan until slightly start sticking on the bottom of the pan.

Pour the wine and turn the fire on for a couple of minutes in order to let the alchool evaporate. Pour the tomato paste and the passata sauce, so turn the heat low, season wih salt and slowly let the sauce cook for roughly 30 minutes until becomes enough dense to be used as filling for the arancino.

N.B. In the original arancino al sugo recipe, you will not find ragù (minced meat) but only the sliced meat, as a matter of fact sicilian people can get very disappointed if, biting their arancino, they don’t find the piece of meat inside!

 

Bolognese sauce for the filling

3. Prepare your table for the filling

While your sauce is cooking, organize your table with everything you will need to create your arancini! Firstly, do not forget to cook the peas…you can take a small pan, add a bit of olive oil and sliced onion. Pour the peas, a pinch of salt and let them cook for 10 minutes (add a bit of water to avoid burning).

On the table, put the breadcrumb on a large plate, cut the caciocavallo cheese into small cubes, make a lega (batter) mixing water and wheat (pinch of salt), and set  everything aside.

 

4. Make the arancini balls or cones

With your wet hands, take a punch of rice and flatten it into your palm, creating a small cup. Add a table spoon of meat sauce, a couple of peas and cheese pieces and close the ball with another small punch of rice. Make a ball or a pyramide (flatten one side of the arancino and make a tip with the other side). Immerse the arancino in the batter and afterwords on the breadcrumb making sure that every side is well covered.

 

5. Fry and serve

Put abundant oil in a pan and once it is well hot gently immerse the arancini (better if one at a time) covering it completely. Fry for a few minutes until the breadcrumb appears beautifully golden. Drain the arancini in some kitchen towels and serve when still warm.

 

Frying arancino

 

Curiosity: in sicilian dialect people use the expression “arancino che ‘i peri” (literally arancino with feet or walking arancino) to make fun of someone being short and chubby (as many sicilian men are!)

Antonella
Antonella

Ciao! My name is Antonella and I am a Sicilian Travel Designer based in Catania, Sicily. My mission here is to share my knowledge and love for this amazing island of Southern Italy and to help you tailor your dream trip to Sicily.

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2 Responses

  1. Being from the western part of SIcily, I call them arancine but I couldn’t agree more on how good are the ones from Fratelli Famulari in Messina, so many flavors to choose from and all of them so special and mouthwatering.
    I also had my wedding at Angelino in Trapani and we had on the antipasti menu some special arancine with ink squid and others with seafood and all our guests loved them!

    1. How funny you got married at Angelino in Trapani which I mentioned in the article! 🙂 what a coincidence…Arancini or arancine it doesn’t matter as they are delicious everywhere!:)

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