Perhaps few people have noticed that the most famous and most popular Sicilian dish both on the island, but also outside, is not a fish dish but a meat dish.
1 to 0 for me and my tastes as a “mountain” Sicilian!
Arancina, or arancino for Camilleri enthusiasts and the inhabitants of Eastern Sicily, is in fact found everywhere: from Palermo to Catania, from Milan to London and from New York to Moscow.
In the Palermo area, an entire day is dedicated to the arancina. It was a popular religious celebration organized by the people devoted to a miracle performed by Saint Lucia, to express thanks.
It was 1646 when a great famine tormented the whole province which had just recovered from the plague “of Santa Rosalia” which occurred a little over twenty years earlier. The chronicles of the time report that every food supply, already rationed for some time due to the very scarce harvests, was practically exhausted and, especially in the city, the people suffered from hunger.
On December 13, when the arrival of winter in those conditions and with no food supplies predicted a real extermination, instead Venetian ships loaded with wheat and various cereals, including rice, landed in Palermo.
The population came and as they were hungry they did not wait to grind the wheat to make pasta or bread but began to eat wheat and rice boiled like this, without even seasoning it.
December 13 was the feast of Saint Lucia and since the ships came from Venice where the body of Saint Lucia rests after being stolen from Syracuse, the people attributed the miracle to the saint. Everyone vowed to fast every year on 13 December without eating flour and derivatives but only boiled cereals.
But it is known that we Sicilians have a fantasy equal to the colors of the carts, and therefore that vote with the passage of time was maintained and still remains today but instead of boiled rice arancine were born and instead of boiled wheat the CUCCIA (which maybe some other time I’ll talk about).
I love to say that on December 13 the people of Palermo are divided into two categories wherever they are in the world: those who make arancine and those who buy them.
I have always been definitely among those who make them, first with my mom in Pioppo, and now here in Milan with my wife.
- risotto rice
- bay leaf
- black pepper
- mixed minced meat (beef mixed with pork)
- extra virgin olive oil
- tomato puree
- bread crumbs
- sunflower oil
In the beginning, therefore, it was rice, a fairly starchy rice (like that for risotto) that is boiled with a bay leaf (someone adds a knob of butter).
While the rice is cooking, a Palermo-style ragù must be prepared (see post on my aunt Sara’s baked pasta) which, however, must be made to shrink until it becomes almost solid.
At the end of cooking the rice must be added, but only in Palermo, the saffron to make it of the classic yellow color, then it must be allowed to cool (possibly it must cook absorbing all the water so as not to disperse the starch when it is poured).
At this point you need to prepare a fairly liquid batter of water and flour, and a bowl with breadcrumbs.
Now comes the fun part.
It involves taking a nice handful of rice, pressing it in your hands, until you get a firm ball, then piercing it, creating the hollow with your fingers, putting the sauce and a small sprinkle of black pepper in it, then closing it well and make sure that the ball is without cracks (which otherwise opens in frying), then roll it in the batter and then pass it in the breadcrumbs.
I tell you right away that it is not easy at all!
But luckily for you, technology comes in handy and there are molds (such as hamburger presses) that simplify the job making it clumsy-proof.
They exist both in the round Palermo version and in the Catania “volcano” version. In fact, the latter together with the ragù also put some cubes of stringy cheese, but not in Palermo!
I recommend letting the arancine rest in the fridge for a few hours and then frying them in plenty of sunflower oil until they are golden brown.
So enjoy your arancini, if possible with a good Sirah wine.