Arancine

Arancine

By
From
Sicily
Makes
10 arancine 7 cm wide

The word arancine comes from the Italian for oranges since they are the same colour and shape. They have been made in various forms since the days of Arab rule and were made originally by the Tuareg, the pastoral nomads, with goat meat and couscous. It was the chef of Frederick II who replaced the couscous with rice so that the arancine held together better. Saffron was added as it was thought to make them last longer. Arancine were taken on hunting expeditions by the aristocracy so that they could eat without having to light a fire and thus draw attention to themselves. The chef also covered them in egg and breadcrumbs to provide further protection and it is this coating that gives the arancine their crunch. In this way, they are similar to Cornish pasties, as you were supposed to eat just the inside and discard the crust, which was dirty from being handled. The Sicilians have a particular kind of rice for this – an old variety that becomes sticky when cooked. They use the same rice in Spain for paella

In Palermo, the different flavours are denoted by the shapes: the cones are spinach, the rounds are mushroom, the oblongs are mozzarella and ham, and the balls are the original one, the ragu. They are huge and one is enough for a whole meal. In eastern Sicily, around Catania, the arancine have a more conical shape, reminiscent of Mount Etna. When the Spanish came they brought their French chefs, the monzù, and they made more delicate arancine, more like canapés.

The ragu in arancine is a little like the filling for cottage pie. It has minced (ground) meat, carrots, tomatoes and onions and is a little spicy. It contains a full-bodied red wine such as the typical Sicilian Nero d’Avola and lots of black pepper. The béchamel is a binder and helps the ragu hold together. Do play around with the flavours but a little béchamel is always a good idea. Here we have made one batch and split it in half for two different flavours. The rice in Palermo is yellow with saffron and has no tomatoes in it. Good arancine should have a lot of stuffing. The breadcrumbs should be fine and ideally the balls should be fried in lard, but seed oil is a good replacement.

Flavours are open to the imagination or what you have left over in the fridge. At the recently opened Ke Palle, a shop devoted to arancine in Via Maqueda, Palermo, you will find everything from pistachio, stracchino and speck to prawn (shrimp), spinach and ricotta, and even sweet ones filled with Nutella or pistachio cream.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
500g arborio rice
salt
1/2-1 teaspoon saffron strands, depending on your taste
50g salted butter
seed oil, for frying

For the béchamel (half for the ragu and half for the ham and cheese)

Quantity Ingredient
400ml whole milk
1 bay leaf
75g salted butter
60g ‘00’ flour or cornflour
salt
freshly ground black pepper
good pinch ground nutmeg

For the mozzarella and ham filling

Quantity Ingredient
150g cooked ham, finely chopped
120g mozzarella, finely chopped
15g parmesan, finely chopped
75g cooked petits pois

For the ragu filling

Quantity Ingredient
250g Quick beef ragu, cooked and cooled

For the coating

Quantity Ingredient
100g ‘00’ flour or glutenfree flour
150ml tepid water
100g fine dry breadcrumbs

Method

  1. Cook the rice in plenty of lightly salted water for 17–20 minutes or until soft. Remove from the heat and drain, keeping a little of the cooking water. Mix the saffron with a couple of tablespoons of the starchy rice cooking water and stir into the rice with the butter. Taste the rice and adjust the salt and saffron flavours as necessary. Pour into an open wide bowl and allow the rice to cool quickly. Don’t keep it out of the fridge for any longer than 1 hour.
  2. To make the béchamel, warm the milk with the bay leaf in a saucepan over a medium heat. Warm the butter and flour in another saucepan and stir to combine. Let the flour mixture bubble a little in the pan then pour into the hot milk and immediately whisk through, keeping the pan over the heat. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. When the sauce starts to thicken, remove the pan from the heat and divide between two bowls, discarding the bay leaf. Cover both with cling film (plastic wrap) touching the surface and allow to cool. When cold, stir the ham, cheeses and peas into one bowl, and the ragu into the other.
  3. Make the coating by mixing the flour with the water and blending until smooth with a whisk or a stick blender. Set aside in a bowl large enough to dip in the arancine. Put the breadcrumbs into a separate bowl.
  4. Work the rice through with your hands, squeezing and breaking down the grains, for around 5 minutes (it’s actually quite therapeutic and enjoyable!). If you dip your hands in cold water first, the rice will stick less. Weigh out around 120 g of rice and flatten it a little into the palm of your hand. Make a small well in the centre. Put around 30 g of either the ragu or the cheese and ham mixture into the hollow, then close the rice around it, squeezing and pushing the rice together into a ball in your palms. Dip the arancina into the batter and, as you bring it out, let the batter drain off. Now roll it in the breadcrumbs. Pick up more breadcrumbs and scatter them over, lightly pressing them into the surface. Put the arancine straight into hot oil to fry, or finish making them all before cooking. At this point they can be frozen, but should be defrosted in a fridge overnight before cooking.
  5. To fry them, heat the oil in a deep-sided saucepan or a deep-fat fryer to around 175°C and fry the arancine for 5–7 minutes, or until they turn a deep orangey-brown. Use a skewer to pierce the arancine through to the centre and pull them out of the oil. Touch the tip of the skewer to see if it is hot. If it isn’t, cook the balls for longer. Drain on kitchen paper and eat straight away.
Tags:
Italy
Italian
Sicily
Sicilian
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