Missing Sicily? Recreate it in your kitchen with this our guide on how to cook arancina with the original recipe.
Arancina or arancino, that is the dilemma!
Who's right? People from Palermo, who prefer the feminine name, or people from Catania, who use the masculine one? This is the quarrel, which has been going on since the mists of time, concerning the name of Sicily's most famous street food and involves the inhabitants of different parts of the island, "fighting" to establish the right one.
Although it seems that the Accademia della Crusca is leaning toward the feminine, making many turn their noses up at it, greedy people from all over the world, who are lucky enough to visit this beautiful island, only wish enjoy the delicious stuffed, breaded and fried rice ball – possibly in different fillings – that has become its symbol.
Today we will discover how to cook the perfect arancina, the basic recipe, secrets for ad hoc cooking and some ideas for a stuffing that matches your preferences. Here, in particular, we will make two fillings, a classic one with meat sauce and saffron and a vegetarian one alla Norma, with tomato and eggplant.
And please do not blame us if we decided to use the feminine for this article: the essence of goodness won't change!
How to cook arancina: the origins
Over the centuries, Sicily has been a crossroads of peoples, a land dominated by different ethnic groups, thanks to its strategic position in the Mediterranean. This shaped many peculiar aspects of its culture, its dialect, and of course its cuisine.
The arancina in particular apparently originated during the Arab domination (9th-11th centuries), because a typical recipe at that time was precisely a saffron rice ball topped with lamb meat. The distinctive breadcrumbs, on the other hand, would date back to the time of the reign of Frederick II of Swabia, since it was a method of easily carrying and storing rice during hunting trips or long journeys; briefly, the arancina was already a street food centuries before it became known.
The addition of tomato, for the classic variety we know today, occurred a few centuries later, when it came to our country from the New World, the Americas, and became one of the most important and distinctive ingredients in our cuisine.
In more modern times, the arancina has become the dish to be eaten, in its many forms and variations, on December 13, Saint Lucy's Day; according to tradition, a sweet one is prepared on this occasion, with a cocoa base and a sugar coating.
Today it is possible to find this specialty in any café, pizzeria, or diner anywhere on the island, in many savory and sweet varieties, but it is now very easy to enjoy them in other cities in Italy, where typical Sicilian rotisseries are becoming increasingly popular.
Ingredients for 20/25 arancinas
Preparation of classic ragù arancina
For the base:
2 lt vegetable stock
100 g butter
2/3 packets of saffron
Parmesan cheese to taste
salt to taste
pepper to taste.
For the filling:
350 gr minced veal and pork
200 gr of peas
1.5 lt of tomato puree
500 gr eggplant
250 gr of diced scamorza cheese
sauté mixture (carrots, onions, celery) to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
salt to taste
pepper to taste
A few basil leaves
200 g 00 flour
400 ml water
seed oil for frying
breadcrumbs to taste
Arancina: the recipe
Let's start by preparing the rice as if you were going to make a normal risotto, in other words, by cooking it with the broth, adding the saffron packets, and stirring in with butter and Parmesan cheese. When the rice is ready let it cool by spreading it out on a baking pan. Doing this step the day before is not a bad idea, because it will have plenty of time to compact and it will be easier to be shaped with hands.
Now move on to the filling. For the classic ragù and peas one, pour some oil and the chopped mixture for sautéing into a pan and let it sizzle. Add the minced meat mixture, salt and pepper and let cook. As it is almost done, add the peas and finally the tomato sauce (not too much) until it thickens. Leave on the heat until the result is satisfactory: a full-bodied and quite dry ragù should be created.
Now deal with the filling for the arancine alla Norma. In another pan pour the oil and sauté mix and add the previously diced eggplants. Season with salt and pepper and let them sauté. When the eggplant is about halfway cooked, add the tomato sauce and a few basil leaves and let it set.
Now prepare the breading mix. Pour the flour and slowly the water into a bowl, whisk to avoid lumps and form a smooth batter. Add the salt. Put some breadcrumbs in another bowl. Meanwhile, drop seed oil into a frying pan and let it heat.
Now it's time to prepare your arancine. Take a handful of rice and put inside a spoonful of seasoning (meat sauce with peas or eggplant and tomato) and a cube of scamorza cheese right in the middle. Add more rice to close and form a ball or a small cone. Repeat until you run out of ingredients.
Try to compact as much as possible by manipulating with your hands, then pass the rice mixture into the batter and roll it in breadcrumbs. Finally dip it in boiling oil with a perforated ladle. Do the same progressively with all the balls or cones.
Your arancinas are ready: let them dry a few minutes on paper towels and serve.
Variations and suggestions
Now you know how to cook a perfect arancina, and you will have realized that, even if it needs different steps, preparation is not so difficult. However, to get a perfect one, you will have to pay attention to a couple of details.
First of all, choose the right variety of rice, so that the right amounts of starch allow it to compact at its best; in this regard, experts recommend Roma or Originario rice, or, even better, Carnaroli rice, which is the ideal one for risottos.
Secondly, pay close attention to frying: the arancina should be evenly browned and should not flake while cooking. For this reason, it is necessary that the oil is very hot (about 190 degrees); if you have a thermometer or decide to use an air fryer you will have no difficulty, but as an alternative we recommend Grandma's method with a bread crumb. Dip it in the boiling oil and observe it: if it starts sizzling, it means that the oil has reached a perfect temperature.
Finally, choose the shape you prefer: arancine are often round, and indeed it seems that the name recalls the similarity to the orange, but they can also be conical, with a silhouette reminiscent of Etna volcano.
Knowing how to cook a basic arancina is essential to spark your creativity: as we have seen, you can make a classic stuffing with meat sauce or with eggplant, but we can also opt for a buttery rice filling with ham and stringy mozzarella, which is also a great classic. There are many other tempting alternatives, for example with Bronte pistachio and béchamel sauce, with spinach and mozzarella, with squid ink, with swordfish, with mushrooms and sausage. We recommend using your favorite ingredients to create the perfect one for you and your guests.