Arancini are a specialty of Sicilian cuisine, named one of the Italian agri-food products (PAT) by the Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies.
Arancini: a bit of history
The origin of this delicacy is not certain. There are those who believe that arancini date back to the time of Muslim domination because in that period the custom of eating rice and saffron seasoned with herbs and meat was introduced in Sicily. Breading, however, can be traced back to Frederick II of Swabia: at that time they were looking for a way to keep the product during travel or hunting. And breading would also allow food to be transported easily.
Arancino or arancina?
As for the gender of the noun there is a sort of rift that divides Sicily in two: in the western part it is called arancina, feminine, (and it is round); in the eastern part it is called arancino, masculine, and it can be round or pointed. The rice timbale owes its name to the analogy with the orange.
The origins of the name
We may say that the correct name is arancina, but in reality it is not. As we have already said, the Arabs seem to have introduced this recipe and it was round in shape; so the comparison with oranges arose spontaneously. However, there are no written sources regarding the preparation of the product.
Only in 1857, in the Sicilian-Italian dictionary by Giuseppe Biundi, arancinu is mentioned and defined as “sweet rice food made in the shape of ‘melarancia’”. However, there are no references regarding the use of meat and tomatoes, the latter cultivated in Sicily at the beginning of the 19th century. While, according to another hypothesis, the name seems to derive not only from the shape, but also from the color of the orange itself. In Sicilian dialect, the orange fruit is called aranciu.
The comment of the Academy of Crusca
The Academy of Crusca also intervened on the diatribe. “Arancino” does nothing but Italianize the dialectal morphological model; “Arancina” proposes the standard Italian model. This assumption is also confirmed by the “rice arancine as big as a melon” an extract from Viceré (1894) by Federico De Roberto from Catania, which was based on a model of the Tuscan language. And, again according to the Academy: “the name of the Sicilian croquettes has both the feminine and masculine forms, determined by the diatopically differentiated use”.
For the meat sauce you will need: half an onion; half carrot; 100 grams minced veal; 50 grams minced pork; extra virgin olive oil; tomato sauce (300 ml); peas (70 grams). And then: rice (half a kilo), saffron (one sachet), butter (40 grams), salt. For the breading: all-purpose flour (300 grams); salt; enough water; bread crumbs. Mozzarella and seed oil will also be needed for frying.
Arancini: Let’s start
As for the preparation, cook rice and drain it while still al dente. During the cooking phase, remember to also add saffron: it will give rice a golden color. Then, put the rice on a large tray and let it cool. In the meantime, prepare the meat sauce: finely chop the onion and put it in a pan and fry it with a little oil; then add the carrot cut into small pieces and the minced meat. Brown and douse with the wine. As soon as it has evaporated add the tomato sauce, and season to your taste. Halfway through cooking, add the peas and cook over low heat for at least half an hour. Cut the mozzarella into cubes.
…and now shape the arancini!
As soon as the rice has cooled you can start making arancini. Take a lump of rise, put it in the middle of your hand forming a kind of basin. Then add the meat sauce and the mozzarella. Close the base of the arancino with some more rice and give it the pointed shape. Now prepare the batter. In a bowl pour the flour, a pinch of salt and water and mix to get a batter without lumps.
As soon as it is ready, pass the arancini in the batter and then coat them in the breadcrumbs. Once this step is completed, heat the oil in a saucepan and start frying the arancini. Drain them as soon as they have reached a golden color. Let the extra oil absorb using the absorbent paper or the bread paper. And enjoy your meal.
You can keep them / in the fridge for a few days. To shorten the various steps, you can prepare both rice and sauce meat the day before and keep them in the fridge. In addition, they can be frozen. But be careful, freeze them before frying them.