Arancine Siciliane (Sicilian Rice Balls) Recipe

arancineNonna Saporito could do no wrong in her kitchen. She could wield a cleaver like a pro, cut up a chicken lickety-split, and roll out pasta without breaking a sweat. Her signature dish, chicken in wine, is to this day my very favorite and one that I have never been able to duplicate in taste. Never! And when she served it, she also made arancine-fried rice balls. I devoured them. Arancine are traditional Sicilian street food that has its beginnings in many foreign cultures. The rice and saffron from the Arabs, the sheep's milk cheese from the Greeks, ragú from the French, and tomatoes from the Spanish. No wonder they are so good! Do not attempt to make these with regular rice. Make them with Arborio, the short-grain, starchy rice used to make risotto. It has the heft to stand up to frying.

Ragú Sauce
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced carrot
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tspn hot red pepper flakes
1 pound ground beef or pork
2 cups crushed plum tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup peas

Rice Balls
1 cup Arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tspn saffron threads, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
4 large eggs
unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
4 cups canola or peanut oil for frying

Ragú Sauce
  1. Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan and cook celery, carrot, and onion until the vegetables soften.
  2. Stir in the red pepper flakes.
  3. Add the meat and brown it well.
  4. Combine the tomatoes with the wine and add to the meat, stirring the ingredients well.
  5. Cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes. The mixture should be thick, not watery.
  6. Stir in the peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made several days in advance.
Rice Balls
  1. Pour the rice into a 2-quart saucepan and add the chicken broth. Stir well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the rice to cook, covered, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  2. Strain the saffron threads and add the saffron water to the rice. Stir well.
  3. Off the heat, stir in the cheese, and add 2 of the eggs. Season with salt to taste. Let cool.
To assemble the rice balls:
  1. Scoop up about 1/2 cup of the rice in the palm of your hand; form small orange-size balls then make an indentation in the center of each ball with your finger.
  2. Fill the indentation with a generous tablespoon of the ragú.
  3. Close the rice around the filling. Set the balls aside.
  4. Put the flour in a shallow bowl.
  5. Beat the remaining 2 eggs with a fork in another shallow bowl.
  6. Coat the balls in flour, then the egg mixture. Roll the balls in bread crumbs to cover completely.
  7. Heat 4 cups of oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit in a deep fryer of heavy-bottomed deep pot.
  8. Fry the arancine in the oil until nicely browned. Drain them on paper towels.
  9. Serve them hot with or without tomato sauce on the side.
Make arancinette, small olive-size rice balls, for part of an antipasto; instead of ragú filling, use a mixture of diced ham and Italian fontina cheese.

Chef's Secret
After coating the rice balls in bread crumbs allow them to dry out, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before frying. This will help the bread crumbs stay put when frying.

Makes about 12 rice balls

Recipe courtesy of Ciao Italia Family Classics, by Mary Ann Esposito

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