Rice balls were something that my Mom never made. I don't remember any of my aunts making them, either... not on my Dad's side or my Mom's side of the famiglia. But Lisa's Dad made them... his family was from Sicily. We'll get to her recipe a bit later, but first...
a Brief history of Arancini:
In researching the history of arancini, I discovered some interesting facts.... Not particularly famous outside of Italy, arancini are big rice balls, some are the size of oranges. In fact, the word arancia means “orange”. Arancini--whether orange size or smaller--are usually filled with a savory mixture. Common fillings include meat sauce with peas; prosciutto and cheeses like provolone, mozzarella or pecorino; eggplant and tomatoes; diced capers.
Also called sartù,
or riso frittata, the arancino has been a part of traditional Southern Italian cuisine for several centuries. In the Campania region, the arancino was first introduced into the Kingdom of Naples by the Aragones who called them, simply, palle di riso (rice balls). It seems that the term arancina was first coined in Sicily, where several regions and provinces claim to be the homeland of the dish. There are even those who claim that Milan’s signature dish of Saffron Risotto is nothing more than a poorly executed arancina that fell apart on a plate – the Milanese, of course, don’t agree.
The traditional arancino comes in two main variants: the first is perfectly round in shape filled with a ragu sauce of meat, mozzarella and peas; the second is called al burro (“with butter”) and has a longer, pear-like shape and is filled with diced mozzarella and prosciutto and grated cheese. In the Sicilian city of Catania, the Arancino alla Norma (with eggplant) and a version with Bronte pistachios are among the most popular. In other regions the fillings might include mushrooms, sausage, gorgonzola, chicken, swordfish and even squid ink.
Here's the recipe. Lisa changed a few things here and there and merged some recipes trying to duplicate the way her Dad used to make them, but mainly for me, she left our the chopped chicken liver. (ugh... thanks, Sweetie!)
• 2 cups arborio rice
• 4 cups water
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 eggs, separated
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/4 cup butter, melted
• 1/3 pound ground beef
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1/2 cup Italian tomato sauce
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• ¼ teaspoon oregano
• ½ teaspoon basil
• ¼ teaspoon ground pepper flakes
• 1-1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
• Canola oil for deep-fat frying (or Olive Oil)
1. Put water into saucepan and add rice. Simmer the rice for 15 minutes until done but still a bit al dente. Let the rice cool down before adding the egg. Mix in the egg, cheese and butter. Cover in a bowl and refrigerate.
2. Next get a large sauté pan. Drizzle in some olive oil and cook the onions until translucent. Then add the meat and spices, salt and pepper, cook until meat is browned. Next, add the tomato sauce to the meat and onions.
3. Take the rice out of the refrigerator, add the meat mixture to the rice mix and incorporate it throughout. Form the rice-meat mix into balls about the size of a large ping pong ball. Wet your hands to help things along. Lay each finished ball on a sheet of wax paper as you work. (If you want to make this a bit cheesier, try using some grated or small chunks of mozzarella inside the balls).
4. Place egg whites and bread crumbs in two separate bowls. Dip rice balls in egg whites, then roll in the bread crumbs. In a deep sauté pan or deep-fat fryer (what I used), heat oil to 375°. Fry rice balls, a few at a time, for 1-2 minutes, turning to brown evenly. They should look golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Serve as an appetizer with some tomato sauce or as a side for something like brasciole or chicken. If you’re a real carb freak, try it with some spaghetti. Or go off the deep end and serve spaghetti, one meatball and one rice ball per plate. You can put some grated mozzarella on top, melt the cheese and put some sauce on the side for a nice antipasti. Make them smaller, stick toothpicks in them, then dip them in cups of sauce--a great snack while watching a good old Italian movie. Or make them like big oranges and see if you can eat more than one.... Boun Appetito!
--Jerry & Lisa Finzi
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved