The History of Arancini

What does rice have to do with Sicilian and Neapolitan cooking?

Rice is one of the few foods that, while grown and eaten all over the world, has managed to maintain a strong, unique identity in each different region – just think of Asian rice bowls, Spanish paella and Italian risotto ... And, although not particularly famous outside of Italy, Arancini - It's classic Italian street food.

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, arancina, supplì or riso frittata, Arancini has been a part of traditional Southern Italian cuisine for several centuries. In the Campania region, the Arancini 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 Arancini 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 Arancini that fell apart on a plate – the Milanese, of course, don’t agree!

The traditional Arancini comes in two main variants: the first is perfectly round in shape, typically 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 (legend indicates this is in honour of the Sicilian volcano Mount Etna), the 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.

All throughout Southern Italy, it’s quite common to find street vendors who sell them from carts – still warm and dripping with oil.

For the festival of Saint Lucia, which takes place on December 13th in Palermo, the city fills up with stands, carts and frying kiosks with the aroma of hundreds of Arancini that are prepared for the occasion. For this holiday many even make arancini in a sweet version, covered with sugar and cacao.

At Blend Bistro & Wine bar we have gone for classic round shaped "Arancini al Pesto".

These delicious, crispy deep-fried balls of risotto rice have a crunchy breadcrumb coating and a center that includes some gooey, stringy mozzarella cheese, basil and pesto - yummy!

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