How to Make Sicilian Arancini
Have some leftover risotto? Make Sicilian arancini! And if you don’t? Let’s make some anyway!
We like to think of making Sicilian arancini as a delicious labor of love. Really they’re fried balls of risotto with a little secret inside. What do they hide? Well, that depends. The classic version is meaty ragù, but you can find all sorts of inventive versions on the island like toasted pistachio and tomato, eggplant and ricotta or even tuna ragù. If you’re in your kitchen, then it’s entirely up to you! Even though the arancini fillings change, the feeling remains the same: pure crispy, gooey bliss!
The origins of arancini lie in Sicily in the 10th century when the island was under Arab rule. Before going on a long trip, the travelers would take a large bowl of saffron-infused rice and roll it with pieces of meat and vegetables to form a ball. These balls were then breaded and fried to be brought along with them. As they were both filling and easy to transport, they made the perfect travel snack (and still do!).
Fun fact, on the west side of the island you’ll order an arancino (plural: arancini), while on the east side you’ll order an arancina (plural: arancine). What’s the difference? One version is feminine, the other masculine. To this day, Sicilians debate over what’s the correct way to call them! Either way, they both stem from the word arancina, which actually means “little oranges” in Italian.
Probably the best part about Sicilian arancini, if we had to choose, is that you can make them with whatever you like! From veggies and fresh herbs to prosciutto cotto and bechamel sauce, the combinations are endless. For a sweet treat, you can use Nutella or chocolate. You can even get creative with the leftovers you might already have in your refrigerator. Make sure to bookmark this arancini recipe so that you’re ready when inspiration hits!
When visiting Sicily or southern Italy, you’re likely to see them sold by street vendors or in a panificio. If you’re lucky enough to come across freshly fried Sicilian arancini, they’ll be slightly crispy on the outside with a warm and gooey center. Hmm, we know just thinking about them must make your mouth water, so we’re here to help you get that feeling right in your kitchen today!
As part of our series of interactive virtual workshops during the Covid quarantine, we hosted a special session on how to make arancini- you know, as you do! Ludovica from The Sicilian Host, guided us through a 2 hour lesson where we learned how to make arancini with a group from all around the world! Book a live workshop now to learn this recipe directly from Ludovica!
Tips for Making Sicilian Arancini
Use risotto rice, instead of regular rice as it may fall apart when you try to form the balls. Another trick is to make some risotto ahead of time, a batch that has been refrigerated for a few hours will stick together much easier. Last tip for making Sicilian arancini, don't rinse the rice because we need all the starch to help it stick together.
To make arancini you’ll need:
For the risotto:
3 cups of small grain white rice (such as Roma or Arborio rice)
1 yellow onion
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups of grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 package of saffron (optional)
For the filling:
1 celery stalk (just a few sticks is fine)
1 yellow onion
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Tomato puree
2 cups of Tomato sauce
12 ounces of ground pork
12 ounces of minced beef
3 ounces of bacon or italian sausage
salt and pepper
To make vegetarian arancini, replace the meat with:
1 bell pepper (any color)
2 - 3 cups of plain breadcrumbs
17 ounces of provolone cheese (or any other semi-soft cheese, except mozzarella due to its water content)
frying oil (peanut or sunflower) enough to deep-fry (1/3 to half a gallon)
How to make arancini, Step by Step
1. Begin by preparing the risotto. Bring the water to a boil, then gently add in the rice, saffron and a pinch of salt. Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat and leave it simmering on medium heat until the water has been completely absorbed. You may need to add a bit more water periodically until the rice is cooked al dente. Stir in the grated parmesan, season to taste and then let it cool. To help it cool quicker, spread it out on a tray and place it in your refrigerator.
2. While you let the risotto cool down, you can start getting the filling ready. Prepare a sofritto, a base for the sauce, in an oiled pan by cooking the celery, onion and carrot together until they are clear.
3. Once ready, you can move the sofritto to a large pot and add in the vegetables or meat, tomato sauce and tomato puree to make your own ragù. Let them all cook together until tender.
4. Now it’s time to assemble the arancini! Take a large plate, spread out the risotto, and crack an egg on top (this will help to make the rice stickier).
5. While you wait for the oil to heat up, take some rice and spread it out in a thin layer on your left hand. Cup your hand slightly to form a “well” in the middle. In the center add your freshly made sauce and a small piece of cheese or two. Take some more rice in your right hand and use your right finger tips to flatten it. Stick it to the top and sides then use the rice to fill in any remaining holes. Go gently and slowly, you’ll get the hang of it! Use both hands to make a ball while gently pressing it to release any air.
6. Dip your ball in the beaten egg and then roll it in breadcrumbs. Gently press the breadcrumbs into the ball and dip it one more time in the breadcrumbs.
7. Using a slotted spoon to lower each ball into the oil, fry each arancini for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Serve hot or cold. To save your Sicilian arancini for later, freeze them before you fry. When you’re ready to eat them, just let them thaw for a few hours before cooking.
For more authentic Italian recipes and to learn more about our favorite off the beaten track adventures in Italy, head to our blog! How about a chilled homemade aperitif to go with those warm, crispy arancini? Make your own authentic limoncello with our recipe!
Let us know in the comments what fillings you used to make your Sicilian arancini!