Recipe / Aracina: gold rice balls
Unfortunately, there are very few traditions that I carry with me from my homeland Sicily... but there is one that I try to respect every year, on December 13.
On this date, in Palermo, to honor St. Lucy, people eat only rice and go literally crazy for arancine, the delicious (and world-known) fried rice balls filled with ragout or ham and butter.
The entire city smells of frying oil and people's faces show a sort of euphoria…
Every moment of the day could be the right one to take a break biting an arancina and offering the opportunity to show off the day after mentioning the total number they were able to ingurgitate: 5, 10, 20 (watch out as some people may tend to boost the number just to get the social recognition that comes with it)!
The process of making arancine is fairly simple but assumes time and dexterity.
First of all, prepare the ragout. The Sicilian one is something in between the Bolognese and the Neapolitan ones – not too dry, not too liquid. Simmer onions, carrots and celery in olive oil, minced meat on a thin layer of butter. Add meat to the ‘soffritto’, green peas and pour tomato sauce. I usually use one liter of tomato sauce per kilo of minced meat (beef meat is preferred but some people may find the pork one tastier). Cook until you can scoop it without dripping sauce around.
Separately, cook some Vialone nano (or Carnaroli or Arborio) rice in a large pot with water (1.2 liter per 500 gr of rice). When it is almost ready, add 100 gr of grated caciocavallo (hard salty cheese) and saffron threads. Mix until it becomes of a burning yellow.
At this point, wait until the two preparations cool down completely.
Once done, grab some rice and put it on one hand in a spoon shape. Add ragout and, with the other hand, add a ‘flat’ portion of rice on top. With both the two hands, shape it in a ball of rice making sure the ragout is safe inside and there is no evidence of cracks outside.
To create the ‘shield’ that will protect our arancina in the descent to the inferno of frying oil, add all-purpose flour to water and whisk until it become a creamy but not too thick liquid and cover the rice ball with breadcrumbs.
Arancina is finally ready for the hot bath.
PS. There is an historical debate in Sicily about the gender of arancina. In the western part of the island we think it is female and we call it arancina. In the eastern part, they think it is male and they call it arancino. Truth is that the eastern part is more entrepreneurial and convinced the world the name is ‘arancino’ but in reality “l’arancina è fimmina” (arancina is female)!