Arancino or arancina? The solution to this dilemma is not simple and it has involved fine linguists, passionate cooks and many gourmands for centuries. Despite the dispute, everyone agrees on how good this symbol of  Sicilian street food is. Perfectly crispy, with its hot filling, the arancino or arancina – which ever you prefer – is never contested.

In Northern Italy, people call them arancini. Perhaps because Andrea Camilleri wrote Gli arancini di Montalbano. In the story, the Inspector from Vigata is greedy of them, especially if the trusted Adelina prepares them.

According to some, the correct name is arancina, because it comes from the shape of this breaded and fried rice ball that reminds of an orange (in Italian “arancia”). However, in Sicilian dialect the name for orange is arànciu (which is male), therefore the doubt remains.

And so the island is divided in two “schools of thoughts”: Western Sicily: arancina, Eastern Sicily: arancino

Aside from this etymological dispute, let’s all keep in venerating this popular product.

The origin of the product goes back to the early medieval or Arab ages, due to the presence of saffron. The old story tells about an illustrious Sicilian who thought of the breading as a simple technique to preserve rice and take it along during long hunting trips and diplomatic missions; indeed, Frederick II of Svevia, who loved Palermo and was forced to wars and travels because of Christianity, used to travel with the crunchy arancini at his side.

Surely claiming the origins of the arancino or arancina means taking a risk, because every city of Sicily claims its origin; in Catania, for example, people are sure to have given the birth to this goodie, since its  pointed up cone reminds of Mount Etna, filled with a really delicious lava. In Palermo and other areas, the day of arancina/arancino is December 13, during the feast of Saint Lucia; On this day, the typical dessert of boiled wheat and ricotta, the cuccìa, also is served. Today the variations are endless: there are the classic arancini, with stewed pork ragu (meat sauce) and peas or the butter and béchamel ones; then there are the more creative ones, with pistachios, sepia, eggplant or Norma, mushrooms and bacon, or ricotta, mint and Piacentino cheese from Enna. You can even find sweet ones, created for children, with a smaller size and a rounded shape, filled with chocolate or ricotta cream. Rolled in sugar and cinnamon, these sweet, fried arancines are a real treat!

Here the most traditional recipes:

Rice Arancine with ragù sauce

for 20-22 arancine

  • 1.3 kg rice (special rice for arancine and flans can now be purchased in the shops)
  • Approximately three litres beef or vegetable stock.
  • 100 g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 2 saffron powder sachets
  • 200 g caciocavallo cheese chopped into chunks
  • Flour
  • 2  egg whites and 1 yolk
  • Breadcrumb
  • Olive oil

Method (for the rice):

Prepare the stock then add the saffron. Fry the onion with the butter but don’t let it brown. Add the rice and the hot stock and then stir. Cook until the rice is done, turn off the heat. Transfer it onto a large plate and let it cool. Cook the risotto about 12 hours before making the arancine.

Ingredients (for the meat ragu):

  • 400 g minced beef
  • 100 g of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 200 g peas
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • half a glass white wine

Method (for the meat ragu):

Brown the onions and add the minced beef. Pour the wine and reduce. Season with salt and pepper and then add the tomato paste with a few water. Cook the peas aside and add them to the cold meat ragu.

Method (for the arancine):

Place a tablespoon of rice into the palm of your hand, flatten into a disk. Add a tablespoon of ragu then a chunk of caciocavallo cheese. Place another tablespoon of rice over the filling and add rice around it to encase it completely; press gently to form a ball. Roll ball in flour, then in the egg and finally in bread crumbs until evenly coated. Once prepared, fry the arancine in abundant  hot oil, until golden.

Rice butter Arancine 

A variant of the traditional arancina, is the arancina “with butter” (that has a conical shape). Its preparation is the same. What is different is its filling:

  • 300 g shredded ham
  • 400 gr smooth cheese in chunks
  • 500 g very thick béchamel sauce enriched with nutmeg