What does summer taste like? I can think of several flavours, changing like the sea waves. Lately I would say pasta with fried eggplants, the most vivid memory of last summer that we spent on a beautiful house just on the beach in Maremma. As a child I would have said watermelon, rosemary focaccia and fried doughnuts. During university my summer had for a short time the taste of Sicilian arancine, the scent of jasmine and the sun bleached colours of a holiday in Pachino, the southernmost tip of Sicily.
In the following years I rejoiced many times in those little perfect moments of a holiday spent with friends. We would scorch ourself at the beach during the hottest hours of the day, as befits four young people who did not understand anything about the timing of the day. We were constantly bathing as tea bags to find some refreshment, then we would come back in the late afternoon to Pachino, perched atop a hill not far from the seaside. We found a little café, Bar Ciclope, and we adopted it. We would stop there before dinner every day, spending at least one hour sitting at its tables underneath the trees in the main square of the village. It was time for a hearty snack. The food tastes just better when your hair is still soaked with salt and your skin is still brackish, when you lay on the chair feeling a deep and relaxed tiredness that only a day spent in the water can give you.
As usual we would order one cannolo, one granita and one arancina. Each. You know, you have to sustain yourself with food when you have such an active beach life. The late afternoon snack would invariable become a happy hour, then we would run to Laura’s grandma to have a typical Sicilian dinner. How to say no.
I’ve been dreaming about those arancine for years, but I could not find a good excuse to make them at home. It took Curtiriso to convince me to try them and I found out that arancine are not only good beyond every possible word but are also pretty easy to make.
Curtiriso is an Italian company who produces rice, grown locally, since 1875. They asked me to create a full menu based on rice. Since Curtiriso is a brand who represents traditional and sustainable values, I decided to entrust me to another institution of the Italian cuisine, Ada Boni and her The Talisman Italian Cookbook. So, browsing her cookbook, I chose five rice based recipes to compose a menu with a distinct classic Italian flavour.
As usual Ada Boni gives precise directions and drops here and there her wise advice, advice that you’d better follow if you want to get a good result. Though she’s also able to leave you free to follow your own path and inspiration. In addition to being a cookbook it is also a coming-of-age book, so I chose Ada to lead me in the composition of a memorable menu.
We begin with an appetizer, something you can enjoy during a happy hour, a whole meal in itself, just choose the category you prefer to save this recipe, but arancine could not be missed in a rice party. They are traditionally filled with peas and meat ragù or cooked ham and cheese, though I opted for a more season and Easter inspired stuffing: asparagus, hard-boiled eggs and taleggio.
The rice I used for this recipe is Arborio. Arborio is ideal for all risottos or for any dry rice preparation. Unmistakable, thanks to its large, pearly grains and high yield. During preparation, the grains cook perfectly and evenly, leaving the core, rich in starch, firm and always guaranteeing perfect creaminess.
- 1.2 l of water
- 1 pinch of saffron
- 1 golden onion finely chopped
- 60 g of butter
- 500 g of Arborio rice
- 100 g of grated Parmesan
- Bread crumbs
- 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
- 450 g of asparagus
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- 100 g of taleggio
- Freshly ground black pepper
Bring the water to the boiling point, add a good pinch of salt and the saffron. Remove from the heat and leave aside.
Melt the butter in a pot, add the finely chopped onion and sauté until soft and golden. Add the rice and toast, stirring often, until translucent.
Add a ladleful of broth and stir the rice until absorbed.
Keep adding ladlefuls of saffron broth, stirring vigorously and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take about 20 minutes. When the rice will be creamy but al dente remove from the heat and mix in the Parmigiano reggiano. Add a good pinch of salt. Scoop the risotto in a large tray and let it cool down completely.
In the meantime make the filling. Remove the woody ends of the asparagus, wash them and slice them thinly.
Cook them in a pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil for about 10 minutes, until they are soft but still slightly crunchy. Add the crumbled hard-boiled eggs, season with salt and pepper and set them aside. When they are cold add the diced taleggio cheese.
Now it's time to make the arancine. Shape the rice with wet hands in an orange size ball, open the rice and but inside a teaspoon of filling, then close them again. Roll each arancina in breadcrumbs and put them aside.
Heat the frying oil in a deep saucepan: you have to deep fry the arancine. Try to fry a small piece of rice, if it will be surrounded by small bubbles, the oil is hot enough. Fry the arancine in batches for about 5 minutes, turning them with a spatula, until golden.
Lay them a kitchen paper to absorb the excess olive oil and enjoy them still hot.
There’s a whole world behind a perfectly golden fried arancina. A few links to discover something more about this world famous Sicilian food.
- A useful video to shape the arancine as a pro.
- From the Huffington Post, a few more ideas for creative filling for arancine: Arancini, the golden fried rice of Italy.
- Bits of history in this article about arancine on the Best of Sicily magazine.
- Detailed recipe, more ideas on fillings, history and tradition. Everything you ought to know about arancini in Arancini di Riso, Sicily’s golden orbs by Kyle Phillips.
A life ago. August 2004, Pachino, Sicily.