Arancine are one of the most traditional foods in all of Sicily. These fried rice balls resemble oranges - the Italian word for orange is arancia. They can be stuffed with a variety of mixtures, but a meat sauce, or ragu, is the most traditional. In Sicily, they are sold everywhere and we loved to see them sold on the street by vendors, in the airport or even gas stations. How different from the sad hot dogs and pretzels you buy in an American gas station! They are great picnic fare and are often eaten just held in a paper napkin. Arancine are made by forming balls of risotto, inserting some kind of stuffing, rolling them in bread crumbs and then frying. They are best served hot but can be eaten room temperature.
Sometimes the shape of the arancine tell you what the stuffing is inside. A traditional round shape, like an orange, is usually filled with a meat sauce. An oval shape is sometimes stuffed with cheese and ham. When I was growing up, my mother put peas into a lot of dishes, like lasagna, that other mothers did not. When I went to Sicily, I understood why - peas are very often put into meat sauces and arancine are no exception.
To make these, you will need two major components - the risotto and the meat sauce. Since it is easier to shape and handle cold risotto, these are a great way to use leftover risotto. For this dish, I also used leftover frozen bolognese sauce (I always seem to have some in my freezer). That really made these a snap. The risotto is easy to make and then you just spread it out onto a baking sheet to cool. Once cool, the risotto is shaped into balls. I also keep the rinds of my Parmigiano Reggiano wedges and throw them in when I make risotto.
I made arancine one year for our annual Christmas Eve buffet. I made much smaller ones - probably about the size of a golf ball. I stuffed them with mozzarella and diced prosciutto. I even made them a few days ahead of time, fried them and then froze them. I took them out, frozen, and just warmed them in the oven and they were delicious. So yes, you can make arancine ahead of time and freeze them.
For an easy variation, you can also make very small ones and stuff them just with a bit of cheese. These are popular in Rome and are called suppli al telefono, for the way the strands of cheese look like telephone wires when you pull them apart. They make great little appetizers.
Haven't made risotto yet? It's very easy. Give it a try. Make a batch in the morning, cool it in the fridge and then form the arancine. Risotto only takes about 30 minutes to make. Arborio rice can be found in just about every grocery store now, so there's no excuse!
I stuck bay leaves in mine so they looked like oranges - if you live in a great growing climate, you can stick lemon leaves or orange leaves for an even prettier look.
for a printable recipe, click here
makes 12 large, orange sized arancine or 24 smaller ones
- 5 cups chicken broth
- pinch of saffron
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli or Aquerello rice
- a rind of Parmigianno Reggiano cheese (if you have it) or 2 tablespoons grated cheese
- 2-3 egg whites
- 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (you can also use panko)
- 1 egg, beaten
- about 1 cup (approximately) of meat sauce, bolognese, or ragu
- enough vegetable oil (I used Canola) to give you about 4 inches of oil in your pot
Make the risotto:
Heat the broth, add the saffron to it and keep it warm in a pot next to the pot in which you want to make your risotto.
In a medium size heavy pot, heat the olive oil and butter. Saute the onion with a pinch of salt gently for a few minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the rice, raise the heat a little and toast the rice for a couple of minutes. Add a couple of ladlefuls of broth and stir the risotto. Add the cheese rind. Lower the heat a little - you do not want the mixture to boil, but just to simmer gently. When the rice has absorbed the broth, add two more ladlefuls. You can tell when to add the broth by running your spoon through the mixture. If the liquid immediately fills in the crevice you make, let it cook some more. If it remains clear, it is time to add more broth (see photo in post for an example). Keep adding broth and stirring, repeating until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. You may not use all the broth. If you don't have enough broth, continue with plain water. If you don't have a cheese rind, at this point add the grated cheese and mix. Pour the risotto onto a baking sheet and let cool. You can refrigerate it to let it cool.
Line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Place the egg whites in a small bowl and beat a little with a fork. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl. Place the meat sauce into a small bowl.
Scrape the cooled risotto into a bowl and add the whole beaten egg. Mound some risotto into your hand using a quantity a little smaller than what size you want the finished arancine. With a spoon or your hand, make an indentation in the risotto. Place about a tablespoon of meat sauce in the indentation, add some risotto over the top and gently mold the whole thing into a ball. Roll the arancine in the egg whites and then in the bread crumbs. Place the arancine onto the wax paper. After they are all done, place them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
Heat about 4 inches of oil in a small pot or use a fryer if you have one. When the oil becomes hot enough to fry, lower the arancine one at a time into the oil with a handled strainer. Let fry for a few minutes, checking the color so they do not burn and gently rotating them with the strainer. When they are golden brown, remove with the strainer and place on paper towels to drain.
Arancine can be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated for a couple of days. They can also be frozen. Just heat up gently in the oven.