Saint Lucia’s day smells like cooked wheat. A perfume that begins to spread the evening before, with the preparation of wheat, called cuccìa in Sicilian dialect. The wheat cooks slowly on the stove all night long. The very next morning it becomes a tasty soup of boiled chickpeas, also cooked in a large pot. In the same way, it can turn into a delicious dessert of ricotta cream, milk and chocolate. At lunch this rustic and warm scent gives way to that of other delicacies that abound on the table: panelle, cazzilli, grattò and, of course, the round and golden arancine, called like that because they look like our wonderful oranges (for this reason in Palermo “arancina” is a feminine name!).
Arancine between history and family traditions
For those who don’t know, this great food is the result of a sacrifice. It is said that during the great famine of 1646, precisely on the day of the commemoration of Saint Lucia, on 13th December, the miracle so much invoked by the population occurred. A ship loaded with wheat and other cereals landed at the port of Palermo putting an end to the suffering of the population. Since then, during that day, out of devotion and thanksgiving, pasta and bread are banned in favour of pure wheat, chickpeas, rice and potatoes. Everything cooked in a delicious way, well you understand how this sacrifice turns into something delicious!
When grandma was still cooking, she was the queen of arancine. The solemn preparation began before dawn, with the complicity of the grandfather: they packaged an infinite number of arancine with bolognese sauce and peas (ca carni capuliata). Placed in the aluminum trays, they were put to rest, waiting to dip in the boiling oil that coincided with our arrival at lunchtime. She always made a lot of them! They were enough for a second round, even for a third, for the next day and, of course, for the usual distribution between great-grandmother and aunts. Incredible but true! Nothing was wasted.
The lightness and the excellent quality of the filling and the frying make the arancine homemade like cherries: you would never stop eating them, even when they were made in giant size. In the kitchen of Nuzza&Ddia we prepare arancine for various occasions. We mix the use of the recipes that belong to the tradition of our families and, sometimes, we bring an ancient cake that my dad loves very much: the sweet little chocolate arancinette.
And now that all our mouths are watering, here’s the recipe for meat arancine.
Ingrediets for 20 arancine (medium size)
FOR THE RICE
- 500 g of rice (Roma type)
- 2 little bags of saffron
- 50 g of grana padano or ground pecorino
- 30 g of butter
- Sale e pepe q.b.
FOR THE BOLOGNESE SOUCE
- ½ glass of evo oil
- 200 g of bovine minced meat
- 200 g of pork minced meat
- 1 onion
- 1 celery
- 2 leaves of bay tree
- 1 spoon of fennel seed
- 30-40 g of tomato puree
- ½ glass of good red wine
- 150 g frozen peas
- 1 clove of garlic
- salt and pepper as necessary
FOR BATTER AND FRYING
- 200 g of sifted flour “00” type
- 200-250 ml of water (it depends on the density of the batter, anyway the batter should be dense)
- breadcrumb (durum wheat possibly) as necessary
- 1 l peanut seed oil
First, remember that to form arancine the ingredients must be very cold. For this reason I suggest to make the arancine the day before and keep them in the fridge ready to be fried.
Start cooking rice
Cook it starting from the cold water for absorption, using 250 ml of water per 100 g of rice. Add salt and butter, which, when cooked, will help to keep the beans separate. Lower the flame and in the last minutes add saffron, stirring constantly. Make sure that the rice is al dente and dry, pour it on the marble top, or on a large tray, stretching it well so that it cools as quickly as possible. Once cold, add the pepper and the grated cheese. As you may have understood, you do not need to bind with eggs, because you will get a light well starchy risotto.
Now, cook bolognese sauce
In a large and low saucepan pour the extra virgin olive oil, leaving a little for the peas. Let the onion and celery brown, finely chopped, together with the bay tree leaf and fennel seeds. Then add the minced mixed meat. When it is well browned, blend with the wine and add the tomato puree diluted with a little hot water. Let all cook over low heat for about an hour, with a lid placed over the pan. Sprinkle salt as you like and remove the lid in the last minutes; the bolognese sauce should be dry and compact.
Now prepare the peas
While you wait for the sauce to cool, in a small saucepan, saute the garlic, dressed and crushed, in the remaining oil. Add the frozen peas and a spoonful of water, season to taste with salt and cook. After letting them cool, mix the peas with the sauce.
And now… arancine!
After that, take a break and equip yourself with trays or large trays lined with parchment paper. Then prepare two large bowls. Inside the first place the breadcrumbs, the second, instead, will serve for the batter, then, dilute the flour with water poured gradually.
At this point, you just have to mix a few tablespoons of meat sauce with rice. Take a fist of rice, stretching it well on the palm of the hand, place a teaspoon of meat sauce in the middle and with the help of the other hand wrap it with rice. You have to form balls the size of a small orange. Once prepared the arancine, pass them in the batter and, finally, in breadcrumbs.
If you are not too tired, I suggest you double breading: strength, courage and… batter and breadcrumbs again. At the beginning you will have some difficulty to repeat this operation, especially you will dirty a lot. Don’t worry: arancina after arancina and year after year, your performance will improve, trust me.
After passing them in the batter and breadcrumbs, store the arancine well apart in the lined trays; cover them with aluminum and store them in the fridge. The next day, heat the peanut seeds oil to 170° Celsius in a large pan or in a fryer; and dip the arancine after having put them back together a little. Remember that rice balls fry by immersion and, please, do not put too many together. Once fried, let them dry on absorbent paper.
Taste them warm but not hot, they will be yummy! If there are any leftovers (which we doubt) you can always freeze them by wrapping them individually in aluminium paper and storing them in a closed container. You can consume them within a month.
Buon appetito in the sign of an ancient tradition and family warmth.