This is my family recipe for arancine, a very popular street food dish from Sicily. They are fried balls of saffron rice stuffed with either a meat sauce or a cheese sauce. The cheese version is called “al burro” that literally means “with butter”, but they are actually filled with béchamel sauce, cheese, ham and peas, while the meat arancine have a thick filling of bolognese sauce with peas, mozzarella and mortadella. You can pretty much fill the rice with whatever you like, but this is the way my family has been making them for many years. In Sicily, arancine are traditionally eaten the day of Santa Lucia, the 13th of December and are sold everywhere.
For the meat sauce and filling – Arancine al ragù
1 medium sized onion
1 big carrot
1 celery stalk
300 gms – 10.5 oz. of beef mince (lean but preferably not the heart smart one as that is too lean for this dish)
1 piece of Italian sausage (better with fennel) – approx 200 gms / 7 oz. – optional (if you don’t like this, just add a little extra mince)
½ glass of red wine
600 ml – 21 oz. tomato purée or 400 ml – 14 oz. tinned diced tomatoes PLUS 200 ml – 7 oz. tomato purée
1 small tin tomato concentrate
Sea salt to taste
2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
5 peppercorns or a pinch of freshly grated pepper (optional)
1 cup of frozen baby peas (not in the photo)
Mozzarella cheese, diced (not in the photo)
Mortadella, sliced and diced (not in the photo)
Finley dice the onion, carrot and celery and put them in a pot with the extra virgin olive oil (1). Let them fry on slow fire till soft (but not brown). Then add the mince and the sausage (without skin) and stir well (2). Make sure to break the mince and sausage so that there are no lumps and it all browns well. Raise the fire a little bit and add the red wine (3). When the alcohol has evaporated add salt, the peppercorns and the tomato puree (4-5). Add 4 glasses of water and the salt and stir (6). Cover the pot and cook on low fire for at least 1 hour (the more the better).
When almost cooked add the frozen peas and let them cook. Add water if needed (or reduce the excess water) until the right consistency is achieved. It has to be quite thick to make stuffing easier.
For the cheese sauce – Arancine al burro
250 ml – 1 cup of béchamel sauce
50 gms – 1.75 oz. of mixed Italian cheeses (mozzarella, fontina, provola…), diced
2 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
2 tbsp frozen peas, blanched
50 gms – 1.75 oz. ham, sliced and diced
Make the béchamel sauce and then add all the diced cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano. Stir well, until the cheeses melt. Add the blanched peas and let the sauce cool down. Add the sliced and diced ham and stir well.
For the rice balls – Risotto
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 1/2 tsp saffron threads
3 cups arborio rice (it has to be arborio or carnaroli, long rice doesn’t work for this recipe, as you need the rice to be somewhat sticky)
1/2 cup white wine
about 4 cups beef stock (depending on cooking time)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Vegetable oil for frying
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the rice is well coated and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine to the rice, and then add a 4 to 6 ounce ladle of simmering broth and cook, stirring occasionally, making sure to wipe the sides and bottom of the pot clean as you stir, until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the broth a ladle at a time, waiting until the liquid is completely absorbed before adding more. When the rice is halfway through its cooking time, add the saffron. Continue cooking adding the broth for about 12 – 13 minutes (in total, after you start adding the broth – the rice HAS to be undercooked at this stage as it will keep cooking until it cools down completely. By the end of the process it will be just right). Then put the fire off and stir in the 4 tablespoons of butter and the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese until well mixed. The rice needs to be quite dry, so that once it cools down you can make balls out of it. Pour on a sheet of baking paper, spread well and allow to cool down.
How to assemble arancine
When the rice has cooled down, make balls with it and then open them by putting your thumb in one side. The hole has to be quite large to allow you to fill them as much as possible with the ragu’ stuffing. Add some cubed fresh mozzarella and mortadella (in the meat arancine) and close the balls. Check out this video from youtube to see how they are made.
Arancine al burro
Roll them in egg white (slightly beaten with the fork) and in a mixture of flour and breadcrumbs (half and half).
Shallow fry in vegetable oil. Eat warm.