Arancini, street food from South Italy
Arancini is one of the most widespread culinary symbols of Southern Italy, and of the nation’s street food culture.
Arancini are stuffed rice balls which are coated with breadcrumbs and then deep fried. They are usually filled with meat and tomato sauce (ragù), mozzarella, and peas.
A number of regional variants exist, which differ, depending on filling and shape. The name in English means “little oranges”, derives from their shape and color, which is suggestive of an orange after cooking.
Whereas, arancini deriving from eastern Sicily, mainly around Catania are often conical.
It is said that arancini originated in 10th century Sicily, during the time when the Island was invaded under Arab rule.
In Sicilian cities like Palermo and Trapani, arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia, which is held on the 13th December, when bread and pasta are not usually eaten. In Palermo, the city fills up with stands, carts and frying kiosks with the aromas of hundreds of arancini prepared for the occasion.
Many even make arancini in a sweet version, covered with sugar and cacao. A version with Bronte pistachios are among the most popular, too.
As a matter of fact, it commemorates the arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s feast day in 1646, relieving the severe famine. It is also said to be the shortest day of the year. In Italy we say “Oggi è Santa Lucia, il giorno più corto che ci sia” translated into English means, “Today is Santa Lucia, the shortest day ever.”
Nowadays, with the ever increasingly popularity of this snack food in modern Italian culture, arancini are found throughout the year in most Sicilian food stores, especially in Palermo, Messina and Catania. It can even be made from left-over risotto.
The secret is to prepare the rice and ragù sauce the night before, and amalgamate everything together when all ingredients are cold. They must be deep-fried to perfection, so the centre softens and the mozzarella melts.
However even though, I’ve never been a rice-lover myself. The only rice dish I could indulge into as a kid back in England was rice-pudding, with strawberry jam on top. Which here is the equivalenti is Bostrengo.
Well it just goes to say that I’m very lucky in having my eldest son’s partner, Arianna who comes from Bronte, Sicily. As she, together with her mother Patrizia, always make sure that I have a never ending supply of typically home made arancini, - a culinary mastery in itself, very edible. I can only but highly recommend them, as they are exquisite.
By Adriana Tenan
- Notonlyspaghetti Team