To be Italian-American is to be an amalgamation of sorts. Not quite American, not quite Italian, and sure as hell not French! Within that, one’s Italian roots may be an amalgamation. I, myself, am a dizzying mix of Calabrese, Napolitano, Parmigiano and Siciliano. The streets of 30′s and 40′s NYC seem to have been a hot-bed for regional love affairs…
And, to continue the confusion further, to be Sicilian is to be a the greatest of Italian amalgamations. Sicily, like so many islands before and after, has been ranshacked and transformed by dozens of invaders and crusaders. A cultural orgy if you will. The end result is something very much unique, not exactly Italian but certainly not African or Spanish.
History is interesting, but it’s also damn delicious as today’s recipe testifies. My god-mother’s mother is Sicilian, an incredible cook and Arancini, or rice balls, are her specialty. Every christmas for as long as I can remember has been graced with a large tray of these “little oranges” as they’re called in Italian. I also ate my weight in them during a 13 hour train ride from Palermo to Florence – something I do not recommend.
There’s no freaking chance I’m divulging one of my family’s most sacred and time-consuming recipes, that’s crazy talk, but I have recreated a version that I find more than suitable. Rita typically creates both the ragu filled and mozzarella filled but there’s something to the milky simplicity of fresh mozz I just can’t get enough of. So, without further rambling, I give you Arancini.
Arancini (Rice Balls)
2 Cups Arborio Rice
5-6 Cups Water
1 generous pinch of Saffron
1 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 Handful Sage
Salt, Pepper, E.V. Olive Oil
Start by bringing your water to a simmer in a large pot. Once simmering, add the Saffron and a generous few pinches of salt. Stir and allow to simmer as the water turns golden from the Saffron.
Next, heat a large cast-iron dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add enough E.V. Olive Oil to coat the bottom. Add your rice and stir so every grain is coated in oil. Continue to ‘fry’ the rice in the oil until the edges turn lightly transparent.
Once the rice has turned transparent, ladle just enough of the simmer water/saffron mixture to cover the rice by 1/2 inch. Stir and allow the rice to simmer until you can pull a spoon thru the rice and see the bottom of the pan easily.
Continue to add the water to the rice in the same increment until the rice has become ‘al dente’ and the starch from the risotto coats the back of your spoon.
Once the rice is fully cooked, remove from the heat and add the pecorino and an extra drizzle of E.V. Olive Oil. Stir aggressively to emulsify the two into the risotto and add salt and black pepper to taste.
Place in a glass bowl, cover in plastic wrap making sure the wrap touches the top of the rice so it does not form a skin. Place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to cool and solidify.
For Rice Balls
3 Cups Vegetable Oil
1 Large Fresh Mozzarella
1 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Flour
1 Cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
To make the rice balls, start by heating your oil over medium-high heat. NOTE: Make sure to use a pot double the height of your oil to ensure you don’t burn your house down – not good eats.
In a large bowl stir the flour and water together to make a sort of paste, this will help the breadcrumb adhere to the rice ball.
As your oil heats, you can start rolling the arancini. Scoop up a small handful of the cooled rice, rolling it in your hands to form a ball.
Push a 1/2″ cube of the fresh mozzarella into the middle, rolling the rest of the rice over it to encase the mozz fully.
First, roll the rice ball gently in the rice/water mixture, and then into the breadcrumbs, pressing ever so slightly to help the breadcrumbs form a layer on the outside. Continue stuffing and rolling until there’s either no more rice or mozzarella.
Once your oil has reached 365F place a few rice balls into the oil and watch them very carefully as they fry. You do not want to burn them so gently roll them around with tongs or a spyder as they fry until they become beautifully golden.
Remove and place on a cookie sheet atop paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and continue frying until all rice balls are done.
Serve hot or room temperature as is or with a side of spicy marinara.
PAULIE’S SPARK NOTES: 1. MAKE SOME RISOTTO 2.ROLL IT INTO BALLS 3.STUFF IT WITH SOMETHING TASTY 4.FRY & CONSUME