If you happen to be in Palermo, Sicily, on the 13th of December, you will have an hard time if you want a pasta dish or a panino. In this day all bakeries are closed and nobody eats pasta or bread. This tradition is to celebrate Saint Lucia, in 1646 after a long period of famine, the Palermitans implored her for a miracle, and soon enough a ship full of wheat came to the harbor.
People was so hungry that they didn’t waste any time to make flour and pasta.
So on the 13th of December Palermitans remember that day by not eating any processed wheat food, but by eating rice, legumes, panelle (delicious fritters, recipe coming soon) and there is also a delicious sweet made with wheat grains and ricotta that is typical of this day called Cuccìa.
Arancine, which means little oranges, are a street food that can be found all year round anywhere in Sicily, but they are especially popular on the 13th of December in Palermo, each family has its own recipe and variation, and ofter they are shared with your neighbor. And if you don’t have the time to prepare them yourself, there are plenty of places where you can buy them.
- 1 lb (=500 gr) of arborio rice
- 3 Oz (=80 grams) of Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 cheese wedges
- 5 tablespoons (=75 grams) of butter
- 5 teaspoons (=25 grams) of salt
- 1 teaspoon of saffron
- 4 oz (=120 grams) of ham
- 4 oz (=120 grams) of mozzarella
- 4 oz (=120 grams) of bread crumbs
- 2 egg whites
- oil for deep frying
Total Time: 2 hours
Preparation 40 min
Cook 20 min
In the fridge 1 hour
Yield: 13-16 Rice Balls
You can have as filling pretty much anything you like!
Arancine can easily be a vegetarian dish.
In this recipe I suggest ham and mozzarella, and you could add a teaspoon of besciamella sauce to each rice ball.
Other common fillings are: Ragú Sauce, Spinach and Provolone, Fried Eggplants, Salmon or you can be more adventurous and try: gorgonzola and pears, or even a sweet version with chocolate, in this case you should add 2 Oz (=60 grams) of sugar to the rice.
Let’s start with with boiling the rice. Use only Arborio Rice, this is very important, because Arborio rice has a high content of starch, a key ingredient to make sure the rice balls do not fall apart during the frying phase.
Bring a pot, with 7 cups (=1.5 liters) of water, to a boil. The correct amount of water is important, so we don’t need to drain the excessive water later, and we retain all the rice starch.
When the water is boiling, add the salt, the rice and the saffron. You should have only 1-2 inches of water above the rice.
Lower the heat to a gentle boiling. Let it cook for an amount of time shorter than the one suggested in the box, in my case the suggested time was 20 min, I am cooking the rice for 15 min. Stir the rice only occasionally, every 5 minutes.
After 15 minutes of cooking, the water should be all absorbed by the rice, in case you have still excessive water, you can drain it with a colander.
Now, you can add: the cheese wedges, the butter, and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir gently and let the rice rest on a flat surface to cool off. After 10 min it should have a temperature that is lower enough for you to touch and handle it with your hands.
Now it is time to shape the rice balls.
If you have never done this before, I recommend you to use a small round container (2-4 Oz) to help you make all rice balls consistently of the same size and it makes easier to add the filling.
In the case of a container of 4 Oz, fill the vessel to half, make a small hole, add the filling, put some more rice on top, push gently to seal. Remove the rice from the container and push the rice into a ball with your hands. It is important that no filling is visible from outside and the rice is compact and uniform in order to have a strong structure that is able to fry later without cracking.
Next step is to deep each rice ball into the white eggs and then cover it with bread crumbs.
You are ready to fry! Deep fry each rice ball for 3-5 minutes until Golden Brown and Delicious!
If your rice ball are a little loose, I recommend to keep the rice balls for an hour in the fridge, it is important that there are not cracks, if the rice balls are not compacted and tend to open up, the frying phase will be a disaster, they will disintegrate in the fryer. If case of such unfortunate case, do not despair, you can still have the option of bake the rice balls instead of deep frying, at 400 F (=200 C) for 15-20 minutes.
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Ciao by Max Suterini