A trip to Sicily is eye-opening in so many senses, including its scenic seaside, mountainous interior, and numerous archeological sites. But Sicilian food is also sensational, including the plethora of street foods that you find in Palermo.
Arancine – stuffed and fried rice balls – are among my favorites . They’re so named because the round shape is reminiscent of an small orange, or an arancina (the singular). However, in some parts of Sicily, particularly the eastern part of the island, they’re called by the masculine noun – arancini. That could be because in the Sicilian dialect, the word for orange is aràncìu, which is masculine, like arancino (singular of arancini). You’re also more likely to find them in a conical, not spherical shape, in the eastern part of the island.
However you call them, these delicious delicacies date back to the 10th century, when Sicily was under Arab dominion, and saffron was introduced to the island. Saffron is used to flavor the rice in this recipe.
The most common type of arancina is stuffed with a meat ragù and peas, but variations abound, including my favorite, with cheese and ham as the center. The addition of béchamel, added after the béchamel has been chilled overnight and you’re able to spoon it, makes the filling even more gooey and melted after it comes out of the fryer.
We set to work making them under the guidance of Chef Michael Sampson, at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, and started by wetting our hands in water to make shaping a little easier. Like the béchamel, the rice had been cooked and cooled ahead of time too.
After you’ve spread and flattened some rice on your hands, place some béchamel, a bit of cheese and bits of ham in the center, then use your fingers and hands to shape the rice into a sphere. Keep working it, and adding a bit more rice, if necessary, to close any gaps.
Then roll it gently into a combination of bread crumbs and flour.
Fry in hot oil until browned.
Wait a few minutes to bite into it so you don’t burn your mouth.
Bet you can’t eat just one!
- cold, cooked arborio rice to which you have added some saffron, a little parmesan cheese and butter and salt to taste.
- For the Béchamel Sauce:
- 2½ tablespoons of butter (40 grams)
- ⅓ cup flour (40 grams)
- 1 cup milk (1/2 liter)
- salt, pepper to taste
- ½ cup parmesan cheese (50 grams)
- To stuff the center of the arancine:
- provola or mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
- small bits of ham (prosciutto cotto or cooked ham)
- bread crumbs
- hot oil to fry the arancine
- 00 flour (or regular flour)
- Prepare the cooked rice ahead of time and leave it to cool.
- To make the béchamel:
- Melt the butter and add the flour. Cook the two together a couple of minutes until sizzly, then add the milk until you get the consistency you want. Then add salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. It should be on the thick side, and it's best if you let it rest in the refrigerator overnight.
- Spread a large spoonful of the cooked rice in the palm of your hand. It helps if you wet your hands first.
- Take a spoonful of the béchamel and some of the diced ham and provoke or mozzarella cheese and place in the center of the rice that you have spread out in your other hand.
- Using your fingers and palm, shape the rice around the filling, into a sphere, covering all the filling.
- Roll the shaped arancina in a mixture of half breadcrumbs and half semolina flour.
- Fry in oil about 190 degrees until browned on the outside.