Region: Italy, Sicily
Category: Antipasto, Meze, Tapas, and Hors d'Oeuvres
Difficulty: Labor Intensive
Arancine are a favorite Sicilian antipasto
or snack. They are stuffed balls of rice
coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried to a golden orange. They look like little blood oranges, hence
their Italian name, arancine, little
[photo: Michelle van Vliet]
The famous Sicilian gastronome Alberto Denti di Pirajno suggested that arancine were created by Arab chefs experimenting with pilaf. In the thirteenth-century Arabic cookbook known as the Baghdad Cookery Book, there is a recipe called nāranjiyya that, although not made of rice, is a ball of meat fried to look like an orange using saffron and eggs to affect the color, hence the use of the Arabic word nāranj, meaning orange. Sicilian food commentators like to point to arancine as a mirror of Sicilian history because they believe that the cheese stuffing was brought by the Greeks, the rice and saffron by the Arabs, the tomato by the Spanish, and the ragoût stuffing by the French. In Rome, cooks make a very similar preparation called supplì alla Romana.
Yield: Makes 12 arancine
Preparation Time: 2 hours
2 cups raw short-grain Arborio rice
2 cups chicken broth
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled and steeped in 1/2 cup water for 30 minutes
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 pound lean ground beef, cooked until no longer pink and drained of fat
1 small ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and very finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup peas, cooked in water to cover until tender and drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
All-purpose flour for dredging
Dry bread crumbs for dredging
6 cups olive oil for frying
1. Put the rice in a large, heavy saucepan and pour in the chicken broth. Stir in the saffron and water, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and the butter and bring to a boil, stirring a few times. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes, without removing the cover or stirring.
2. Remove the rice to a large platter or baking dish and stir in the egg yolks and cheese. Mix well, then spread the rice out in the platter or dish to cool.
3. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then cook the onion until translucent, about 7 minutes, stirring. Add the ground beef, tomato, rosemary, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the pepper and cook, covered, for about 8 minutes. Add the peas and wine and cook until the wine has evaporated. This stuffing should look like a thick ragout.
4. Spread some flour on a piece of wax paper or in a plate. Lightly beat the egg whites in a shallow bowl. Spread the bread crumbs on a piece of wax paper or in a plate. Set out a bowl with cold water in it to occasionally dip your hands so the rice doesn’t stick to them when you form the balls. Grab a handful of rice, about the size of a lemon, and flatten it in your palm. Cup your palm and, with your other thumb, make an indentation in the rice, right at the center of your palm. Place about 1 tablespoon or a little more of the ragout in the center and fold the edges of the rice patty over to completely encase the ragout and form a ball. You may have to use a little more rice to surround it. Shape the ball with both hands until it looks the size of a small lemon, smoothing the surface for cracks. Squeeze just tightly enough to form a ball but not so tightly that it falls apart. Continue making and stuffing balls in the same fashion.
5. Dredge each ball in the flour, patting off any excess flour. Dip in the beaten egg whites, and dredge in the bread crumbs on all sides, coating the ball evenly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Preheat the frying oil in a deep fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 365ºF. 7. Deep-fry several rice balls at a time (do not crowd them) in the hot oil until golden, about 4 minutes. Do not fry more than 4 at a time. As the rice balls finish cooking, remove to a paper towel-lined platter to drain and serve warm or at room temperature. Let the frying oil cool completely, strain through a porous paper filter, and save the oil for a future use.