Arancini rice balls are one of the wonders of Italian cuisine. Shaped like a ball or a cone these crunchy crumbed arancini are filled with a wonderful bolognese ragu with peas and mozzarella. These are a pushy recipe Dear Reader!
I've always wanted to make arancini but I was intimidated by a teenage attempt and failure. How does the rice stay together after rolling? Why did the arancini fall apart while frying. I'm glad to report that with these helpful arancini making tips you'll turn out PERFECT arancini every time. And not just the small balls, but larger conical arancini.
For me arancini is like lasagna, something for a special occasion or to feed guests because it is a bit laborious but so worth it. Also arancini are best made in a larger number because once you start it. Budget on 1 arancini per guest for a starter platter at lunch or dinner.
Arancini are said to have been created in 10th century Sicily although its exact details are unclear. Nowadays they are a street food, perfect for snacking in sizes from the small ball to the larger conical arancini. There's something about the generous size of the conical ones that makes me gravitate towards it. The word arancia comes from the word orange as the round arancini resemble oranges. Arancini is the plural while arancino is the singular. In Catania and Eastern Sicily, arancini are larger in size and conical or pear shaped but on the North coast around Palermo they are round.
There is also a tool to help you shape them into the conical shape called an Arancinotto but honestly this isn't needed (and the rice must be cold when using one). I found I liked shaping them into the conical shape the best and it wasn't too challenging provided you follow the tips below.
Carm Ruggeri from Sicilian Food Tours quips, "There are 5,000 different ways to make arancini." Prior to 2020, she would bring groups of people to her native Sicily and now she holds classes on how to make arancini and pasta. "It's all about the crust. You want crunch and a thick crust," she says definitively.
Arancini is a dish devised from leftovers. "It's all your leftovers with rice and meat and we're trying to make it as go as far as it's a poor man's food," she says. She says that while there are a couple of saffron farms in the Mount Etna region, nowadays saffron is rarely used in arancini and more seen in Roman suppli.
Carm also explains that in Messina on the north east of the island they use egg yolk at the end of the cooking the rice to stick it together. "Mix it fast to avoid scrambled eggs," she advises. You also don't need to wait for this to go cold as you mould it once the rice is cool enough to touch.
Once the arancini are formed you then roll them in flour, then a pastella or flour and water batter before the final breadcrumbing and frying. Carm has also used egg whites beaten to soft peaks poured over the arancini instead of pastella and then rolls them in the breadcrumbs. "Pastella I find is the best way," she says.
Tips for making perfect arancini
1 - Some start arancini on the day (see above) but I start arancini the night before. I make the risotto and the bolognese ragu then and then just shape and fry on the day.
2 - Always use the correct rice. This will only work with an arborio rice that you would use for risotto as it is a stickier rice.
3 - Do not rinse the rice so that the starches remain on the grains which will help to thicken up the risotto.
4 - Saffron gives the rice a beautiful golden hue as well as a lovely flavour. This is more a traditional touch and not used so much today.
5 - The rice must be cold to shape easily.
6 - Always have damp hands when you're shaping your arancini. This prevents the rice from sticking to your hand. I have a large bowl of water ready to "rinse" my hands in when they are getting too sticky with rice.
7 - Refrigerate your arancini for 4 hours before dipping in the batter and breadcrumbs. This sets it so that it becomes firmer and won't fall apart. Some also place their arancini in the freezer for 2 hours before frying although I didn't try this (and you may have to increase your frying time).
8 - It is not traditional but you can use panko breadcrumbs which are crunchier than normal breadcrumbs. You will have to blitz them up finely first.
9 - The traditional filling for conical arancini is bolognese sauce and round arancini are usually filled with spinach and ricotta or mushroom and cheese. Carm says that round arancini usually contain the vegetarian filling.
10 - You can reheat arancini in the oven just before serving. Bake at 190C/374F for 10-15 minutes.
"Don't forget that recently there was a war on it in Sicily. We were divided. The people from Catania call it feminine arancina. They believe it's female like mamma Etna because of its form so it should end in an A. The people from Palermo call it arancino. No one really won," she adds laughing.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever made arancini? Do you have a favourite filling for it?