In Catania they are called “arancini”, in the masculine form, unlike in the rest of Sicily, where they are known as “arancine”, in the feminine form. There is no question about that. The term “arancinu” appears in the Sicilian-Italian Dictionary of Giuseppe Biundi, a native of Palermo. It was the year 1857: history, perhaps, proves the inhabitants of Catania right. Of course, the Accademia della Crusca, the society of scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, prefers the feminine, but they will not be induced to change their minds.
Arancini are eaten at all hours, like all self-respecting street food. Visitors to Sicily know that they will have to give in to the temptation to taste this exquisite forefather of fast food.
They are round, just like the oranges after which they are named, but when you bite into them their taste explodes in your mouth: rice, meat sauce, tomato, stringy cheese. Inside, there is a bit of Arabia, a bit of France, a bit of Spain, a bit of Greece, but above all the richness of the flavours of Sicily.
Variants include arancini with butter (béchamel sauce and ham), “alla norma” (aubergine and tomato), spinach, or pistachio.
There are many stories about their origin: from Arab domination to Dominican convents where they were apparently served as a house speciality. Some think they are simply a creative way to recycle leftovers in the popular kitchen or an easy meal to take with you to the countryside. But who cares? The result is still exquisite.
Dora’s arancini are small, like the palm of her hand, and so good that no one can stop at just one.
Let’s start with the meat sauce filling, which must be fresh and, if necessary, can be prepared a day in advance. After having carefully washed the onion, in a deep frying pan heat a thin layer of olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Carefully sauté the chopped onion in olive oil over a low heat without burning it. Cut the meat into cubes and brown the pieces in a pan until lightly browned. Then add the tomato sauce. The sauce must be concentrated, so let it cook slowly, covered and over low heat, for at least three hours so that it reaches the right consistency for stuffing the arancini. Ten minutes before removing the sauce from the heat, add a handful of fresh or frozen peas, salt and pepper to taste.
Let cool and then separate the meat from the sauce: it will be easier to fill the arancini at the end.
Bring a pot with vegetable stock to the boil and leave to simmer for the duration of the preparation. In a saucepan, heat enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Wilt the chopped onion in olive oil over low heat. Incorporate all the rice and then add one ladle of boiling vegetable stock at a time, letting the rice absorb the liquid. Continue until the rice is al dente (about 12-15 minutes). Lastly, add the butter and Parmesan cheese and mix well.
Spread the rice on a baking tray and let it cool.
If you have leftover risotto, it can be a great alternative.
Cover your palm with a layer of rice. Put 1-2 tablespoons of sauce, a few pieces of meat and two provola cheese cubes on top, close the rice around the centre and create a ball. It is important that the rice covers the filling completely.
Mix the semolina with water to create a soft batter. Use enough water to achieve a sticky consistency, which is necessary to ensure that the batter sticks to the shaped rice balls. Dip the rice balls in the batter and then dip them in the breadcrumbs. At this point, the arancini can be frozen and stored in the freezer for up to one month.
To fry the arancini, whether fresh or directly frozen, prepare the fryer (follow the instructions supplied with your model) and heat the vegetable oil to 180°C.
Fry until the arancini have a light golden colour, remove them from the fryer and let them rest for at least 10 minutes. Before serving, fry them a second time until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. The second frying ensures that the heart of the arancini is well heated.