Arancino or arancina? The dilemma is not easy to resolve and has for centuries been argued over by linguists, passionate chefs and simple gluttons. Everyone agrees on the goodness of this symbol of Sicilian street food . Perfectly crispy, with its hot filling, whether you say arancino or arancina, it's acceptable to all palates.
In northern Italy they're called arancini, the masculine form, like the writer Andrea Camilleri also does in his novel, Gli arancini di Montalbano. In fact, the Vigata commissioner (to whom a very special itinerary is dedicated!) is a glutton for them, especially if they're prepared by the trusty Adelina.
According to some, they should be called arancina because the name derives from the shape of this fried, breadcrumb-coated ball of rice, which resembles an orange. However, in the Sicilian dialect the citrus fruit’s masculine, arànciu, hence the controversy remains. To be fair, the island is divided in two: western Sicily claim it’s arancina while eastern Sicily says arancino.
Putting this etymological dispute aside for a moment, everyone, from east to west, is united in the real veneration of this sublime product of popular cuisine.
Its history is very old, early medieval or perhaps Arabic in origin, given the presence of saffron-flavoured rice stuffed with vegetables and small pieces of meat. In the past, the dish used to be served on a tray placed in the centre of the table, and each diner took some with their hands. Later, perhaps to facilitate transportation, this was transformed into single-dose portions coated in breadcrumbs and fried.
It’s said that an illustrious adopted Sicilian designed the bread coating as a simple but brilliant way of preserving the delicious rice, and of transporting it over long distances during hunting trips and diplomatic missions. Frederick II of Swabia, who loved Palermo and was forced to travel and fight throughout Christendom, used to take the trusty, crunchy arancini on his travels.
Claiming to be the origin of the arancino or arancina is certainly risky, given that every single town in Sicily maintains that they were its creator. In Catania, for example, they’re sure that it was them who gave birth to this wonderful food, as the pointed upward cone, so different from its distant cousin, the roman rice ball, is reminiscent of Etna, and is in this case filled with a succulent lava. In Palermo (and also in other areas) the 13 December, the Festa di Santa Lucia (the Festa di Santa Lucia in Siracusa absolutely must not be missed!) is the day of the arancina and the cuccìa, the dessert made from boiled wheat and sheep’s milk ricotta cheese.
There are now infinite varieties: from the classic one with meat sauce and peas or butter and béchamel, to more creative cuisine involving salmon, pistachios, squid ink, mushrooms and speck, to the Norma with aubergines and another with ricotta, mint and Piacentino Ennese cheese.
There is also the sweet version, not just for children, spherical in shape and smaller in size, filled with chocolate or ricotta cream. Dipped in sugar and cinnamon after being fried, these delicious varieties are a real delight!
Here’s how to prepare the most
Arancine di riso con ragù di carne
Ingredients for about 20–22 arancine
● 1.3 kg of rice (nowadays you can buy special rice for arancine and sformati)
● about 3 litres of vegetable broth or meat broth
● 100 g of butter
● 1 onion
● 2 sachets of saffron
● 200 g of fresh caciocavallo cheese, diced
● Olive oil
● 2 egg whites and 1 egg
Preparation of the rice:
Prepare the broth and dissolve the saffron in it. Cook the onion in the butter without browning it, add the rice and then the hot broth and mix together. Cook the rice and then turn off the heat. Pour into a large plate and wait for it to cool. Prepare the risotto about 12 hours before making the arancine.
Ingredients for the meat sauce:
● 400 g of minced beef
● 100 g of tomato purée
● salt and pepper
● 1 onion
● 200 g of peas
● extra virgin olive oil
● half a glass of white wine.
Preparation of the meat sauce:
After frying the onion in hot olive oil, add the mince blending it with the wine. Add salt and pepper and lastly the tomato purée thinned down with a little water. Boil the peas separately and mix them with the cold meat sauce.
Preparation of the arancine:
Place a tablespoonful of rice in the palm of one hand, add a tablespoonful of the meat sauce and then a cube of the fresh caciocavallo. Place another tablespoonful of rice over the previous portion of meat sauce to cover it. Press the arancina and dip it first into the flour, then the beaten egg, and finally into the breadcrumbs. Once the arancine are prepared, cook them until golden in a frying pan containing plenty of boiling olive oil.
Arancine di riso al burro
One traditional variety of arancina is arancine “in butter”. These have a slightly elongated shape compared to those filled with meat. The procedure for preparing arancine al burro is identical, but the filling is different. The following ingredients are used:
● 300 g of cooked ham
● 400 g of a soft, creamy cheese, diced
● 500 g of very thick béchamel seasoned with nutmeg