Every year I make a slew of delicious tasting items. While I’m almost always pleased with just about everything I craft (save for a Julia Child recipe cooking disaster), there’s always one or two things that are my absolute favorite, as in their taste and presentation simply blow me away. For 2015, the top winner (so far) might just have to be the arancine (Sicilian Rice Balls) that I made last week. These were simply amazing.
When it comes to Sicily, my knowledge is quite limited save for what I “learned” on the beloved television sitcom, The Golden Girls, thanks to the hilarious character of Sophia Petrillo. Sophia was an emigrant from Sicily and almost every episode featured her saying the infamous line of, “Picture it, Sicily,” when she was about to share some anecdotal Sicilian tale. That and of course, the girls simply loved all of the Sicilian dishes she made.
But in all seriousness, I really don’t know a ton about Sicily save for wanting to see the famous ancient ruins of Siracusa (Syracuse). It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean and has been in cultural existence for 3,000 years if you can believe it. Although I have no doubt I would love seeing its gorgeous outdoor sights and incredible centuries old historical attractions, I’m also sure I’d be quite enchanted by the food. Amanda over at Farsickness published a terrific post on a food tour she did in the Sicilian capital back in June and this is how I first discovered arancine. I also learned on my Boston food tour that there’s a stand in the city’s North End neighborhood that sells them but sadly I did not come across it.
Now that summer is officially over (even if pleasant temperatures in the low 60s remain), I’ve returned with fervor to my cooking adventures. Amanda’s post had been on my mind all summer so last month I looked for a recipe for arancine and found a great sounding one in a cooking magazine I love, Saveur.
Arancine are perhaps Sicily’s most beloved snack. They are what the empanada is to Argentina and what the pupusa is to El Salvador. They’re essentially rice balls filled with ragu (a meat based sauce). Although I was a little leery about the forming part, especially since Saveur featured a whole image gallery on how to do so, doing so was not as bad as I initially feared.
They’re not something you can whip up in 30 minutes or less (although I have no doubt that Sophia Petrillo probably could). The recipe is very much a multiple step process (i.e. make the ragu, chill the ragu, make the risotto, let the risotto cool, etc). So you need to have patience and do what I do, get everything ready up to the point of frying them.
A few helpful hints:
-If you’re like me and don’t want to spend almost $20 on less than a gram of saffron, substitute it with one of the following-paprika, achiote (a spice commonly used in Latin cooking), or bijol (another Latin seasoning which is what I used). Substitutes obviously don’t have the same taste as saffron but they’ll give you the same yellow hue.
-I didn’t follow the size specifications for the balls; what the recipe suggested wasn’t working for me (the balls were not forming together) so do what works for you. If they’re the size of softballs, so be it 🙂