“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!).
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 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!!!
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.
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 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…
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!
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!
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!
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
INGREDIENTS SERVINGS: 8 ARANCINI (DEPENDING ON SIZE)
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
1 leaf of celery
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)
2tbps all purpose wheat
1 pinch salt
- 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).
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!
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.
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!)