Sicilian cooking: Arancine (meat rice balls)

The Meat Rice Balls (so called arancine) in Palermo , and generally in western Sicily, are round in shape , while in eastern Sicily they have a stretched shape and they are called arancini; anyway regardless of the shape, the name or the many variations each part of the island offers , these blonde and unique delicacies, are one of the most representative and worth to taste thinks of Sicily.

Traditionally the arancina , and many other delicacies we will talk about later, is prepared on December 13th for the day of Saint Lucia.

From ” Palermo è… ” by Gaetano Basile :

The meat rice ball expresses the maximum of the civilization of our island : thinking to bring with you something home cooked when you are away from home, is one of the pure soul pleasures . Just think about those ” mischini ” (i.e. poor people) who have to be pleased with a cold sandwich which, although it contains a sausage or a meatball , it is always bound to the emergency.
It is said that it was the Emir Ibn At Timnah to invent the ” rice timbale ” or pasta timbale; it seems that he brought it with him when he went hunting . A brilliant idea : the fragrant rice with saffron and tender peas, with many meat little peaces, was manipulated so as to make a ball as big as an orange. It was then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried , so that it superbly resisted to the transport.
It seems that the risotto alla Milanese was nothing more than a meat rice ball which failed to have the right shape, due to the different quality of Lombardy’s rice and thus, it ended melted on a plate , becoming a simple risotto. Maybe this is just a naughtiness all made in Palermo !

1,300 kg super thin arborio rice (today you can find the rice suitable for arancine and vegetable or meat pies) . With these doses you will get about twenty meat rice balls
Approx. three liters of meat broth or vegetable broth
1 onion
100 g of butter
2 sachets of saffron (even better saffron strands)
250 g grated Parmesan cheese
200 g diced primosale cheese
Corn oil for frying
abundant breadcrumbs

400 g of minced beef meat
1 onion
100 g tomato paste
50 g grated Parmesan cheese
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
200 g fresh peas net of skins ( frozen peas are fine too )
Extra virgin olive oil
½ glass of white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the risotto about twelve hours before making meat rice balls (it must be cold, because in order to obtain excellent meat rice balls the dough has to be quite hard and sticky) .
Prepare the broth in which we will melt the saffron .
Sauté the finely chopped onion in a large saucepan (it must not get brown), add the rice and toast it, then, constantly stirring, add the hot broth little by little and cook the rice. Get off the fire and add the grated Parmesan cheese and the butter . Cook until creamy for a few minutes, then pour it into a large plate and let it cool .

Gently fry the onion with olive oil in a pan . Add the minced meat and sauté over high heat , being careful to separate it well with a wooden spoon, then simmer with white wine until reduced. Add salt , pepper , bay leaves , cloves and the tomato paste melted in a little water ( the meat sauce , must be thick in the end , almost dry) and , when cooked , the Parmesan cheese .
Cook the peas ( if you use the frozen ones you defrost them in salted hot water with 1 bay leaf and a pinch of sugar) , drain them and add them to the cold meat sauce .

Take a spoonful of rice and put it on the palm of the hand so as to form a hollow where we will put a spoonful of meat sauce and in the center , a cube of primosale cheese. Take another spoonful of rice and cover the meat sauce very well, being careful not to pop it out. Shape the meat balls squeezing this compound with your hands in order to consolidate it. Roll them into the breadcrumbs always compacting the meat ball and set aside . Proceed until you run out of the ingredients .
Fry the meat balls in abundant hot oil until they are golden brown ( the best results are obtained with a deep fryer) .


We’ve just described the traditional meat rice ball, but a great variation is the one that here we call butter rice ball which in this case has the stretched shape (similar to a pear ) to distinguish it from the meat rice ball.
In order to prepare the butter rice balls the directions are the same as above, it just changes the filling that is made by mixing the following ingredients :
500 g of diced mozzarella
300 g of ham steak cut into small pieces
30 g of grated Parmesan cheese
100 g butter.

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