In Palermo and on the western part of Sicily, they are known as arancine, using a feminine name to relate to the small orange shape and color. On the eastern side of Sicily, specifically in Catania, they call them arancini, a masculine name for rice balls shaped like a small cone to imitate Mt. Etna’s volcanic shape. The most common filling for arancini is a tomato-based meat ragu with green peas. Across Sicily, there are many creative options for the filling, such as “al burro” with ham and bechamel, spinach and mozzarella, or sometimes even a sweet version with pistachio cream. We chose a less traditional filling of bitter greens with Ragusano cheese for a great vegetarian option in this recipe. Ragusano is an unpasteurized stretched-curd cow’s milk cheese from a special breed of Modicano cows in Sicily’s southeast part. A substitute for the Ragusano cheese in this recipe could be provolone or caciocavallo.
– 2 cups of plain arborio based risotto (there’s no substitute for arborio rice)
– 3 cups tomato sauce with ground beef or pork
– 1 cup of peas
– 2 ounces of cubed mozzarella
– 1 ½ cups of plain breadcrumbs
– 2 large eggs
– salt, pepper, oregano to taste
– ½ cup of finely chopped parsley
– vegetable oil for frying
How to make Arancini di Riso:
– Make plain risotto and proceed to scoop out a healthy amount into the palm of our hand. You’re looking for baseball size arancini; note they don’t need to be perfect spheres. Make sure to wet your hands with some freshwater before handling the rice (this will prevent the rice from sticking)
– Make an indentation in the middle of the rice and proceed to fill the ball with a little tomato sauce, 3-4 cubes of mozzarella, and peas
– Next, close the rice around the filling and seal the ball by shaping the rice into a ball.
– Beat a few eggs and season them with a bit of salt and pepper. Next, dip the rice ball into the egg mixture and then in a bit of flour. After that, drop the ball back into the egg mixture and then into fine breadcrumbs (buy fresh breadcrumbs from a local shop that are not seasoned; you can flavor your breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, oregano, and finely chopped parsley).
– Begin heating your vegetable oil in a large pot (no need to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as Mario Batali used to do on his FoodTV cooking show, as it’s a royal waste of money). The ideal frying temperature is between 350 and 375 degrees. You can invest in a thermometer, but after several frying sessions, you’ll get a sense of when your oil is ready.
– Gently place the balls in the hot oil and fry for about 4 to 4.5 minutes (depending on the size of the ball itself). You’re looking for a golden exterior appearance, but ultimately you want the mozzarella to melt well and achieve “gooey” consistency; I’ve had terrible rice balls in the US that appear golden and perfectly cooked only to have barely melted cheese in the ball center)
Enjoy the rice balls right out of the fryer (you need to consume this product right away). You can reheat rice balls, but they often become dry.
Regional recipe from Sicily.