Arancini are deep-fried or baked rice balls stuffed with yum. You make them with leftover risotto, which has to be one of the most popular, signature Italian dishes after pizza. And the best way to enjoy arancini is with a glass of Sicilian wine!
Reputedly a great Sicilian street food, the Arabs occupying Sicily served bowls of rice and saffron, and other vegetables and meats way back when. At some point they made the rice into balls for easy transport. The crunchy coating and optional stuffing came later.
We hoped to get to Sicily this year to see for our selves but the trip is on hold for now.
In spite of this delay, leftover risotto doesn’t wait. I make it often and always larger batches because why not have leftover to make arancini?!?
You’ll notice I say ‘fried’ or ‘baked’ above. I often look at options to lighten things up without reducing flavor. Although nothing can replace the unctuousness of fried food, this baked arancini version (recipe below) is pretty darn good. You can stuff them too which elevates the flavor even more.
Cooking method aside, the most important thing is to enjoy arancini with Sicilian wine!
Sicily has one DOCG, 23 DOCs and seven IGTs. Click here for a nice discussion of these acronym. Here are just a few of the 31 areas.
Wines from the Mount Etna area are the most known of Sicilian wines with Carricante and Catarratto Bianco, the primary grape varieties behind the Etna Bianco wines. And when you sip Etna Rosso you’re tasting Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio.
Contrary to what you might think, Etna is a higher altitude, cool climate growing area with significant variations depending where vineyards lie. That often equals taut yet fresh and alive depending on the grape variety and winemaking style!
Heading directly south of Etna takes you to the traditional island home of Nera d’Avola, the Eloro DOC. Nero d’Avola is the most widely grown red variety found all over the island. I’m guessing it’s the first grape you think of when someone says Sicily and wine in the same sentence?!? If you aren’t familiar with this grape, certainly grab yourself a bottle. Some are black-fruit driven and slightly earthy and smooth while others are red-fruit driven with herbal notes, lean yet elegant.
From Eloro heading west (clockwise) along the southern coast you pass several appellations then hit the Marsala DOC on the northwest tip of the island. It’s too bad Marsala was drug into the plonk, sweet, only good for cooking wine category because quality producers make really superb Marsala.
Marsala is fairly complicated with several designations, and color and sweetness categories… not all are overtly sweet. Unfortunately about 80% (Marsala Fine) is intended for cooking purposes. Look for Marsala Vergene or Marsala Superioré on the label.
Monreale and Alcamo DOC
Continuing clockwise, east of Marsala but still in the northwestern side of Sicily sits the Porta del Vento winery in a high valley stradling the Monreale and Alcamo DOCs at 1,900 feet (600 meters) above Palermo. Eighteen hectares total on the steep hills of which fourteen are planted with vineyards.
This higher altitude together with the northern exposure are an added value for Porta del Vento’s vineyards. It enables them to escape the torrid Sicilian heat, allowing grapes to reach phenolic ripeness and maintain higher acidity. Another aid is the wind and large diurnal temperature shifts.
Biodiversity and minimal intervention is important to owner/winemaker Marco Sferlazzo. The small estate works to understand and maintain the balance of wild herbs and other vegetation, and wildlife on the property too. Machines aren’t used in the vineyard thus grapes are hand harvested.
In the winery, fermentation is spontaneous, meaning no added yeast to initiate fermentation. Wines are racked as little as possible and not filtered. According to Sferlazzo, depriving the wines of the elements that make them truly unique is pointless. The estate is certified organic and utilizes biodynamic principles. Sferlazzo chooses to only work with grapes native to Sicily.
The two wines I purchased paired brilliantly with arancini: 2016 Porta del Vento Perricone and 2018 Porta del Vento Catarratto (Bianco). Both grapes- Perricone and Catarratto- are indigenous to Sicily. They are imported into the United States by Singular Selections and available through various stores in the EU. I will be discussing them in greater detail in another article. In the meantime, how about some arancini?!?
- 3 cups leftover risotto (however much you have really but you want at least 2 to 3 cups to make it worth it!)
- 1 egg
- ½ cup panko (optional if needed for base risotto)
- ½ to 1 cup fine semolina flour
- 2 cups panko (plus or minus) for rolling
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
- Place leftover risotto in a large bowl.
- (Depending on how moist your risotto is, you might need to add an egg and flour or not. I make my risotto fairly creamy and moist so I do not do the following step.)
- Test: grab a golf ball-ish sized amount and form it into a ball. If it holds together well you’re set. If the risotto is drier and does not hold together take the following step:
- Mix the egg with a fork then pour over the risotto; mix with a spoon or your hands to combine well. Try forming a ball. If it holds together, great. If not, mix in some panko a small amount at a time and retest.
- In a bowl, mix 2 cups of panko with olive oil. Take care to mix well so all the panko is covered. This step helps the arancini get golden brown when baking.
- With an ice cream scooper (or hands) make the arancini balls, placing each on a plate until finished.
- Roll the balls in the semolina flour, then the egg, then roll in the panko; place on the baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Pour yourself a glass of Sicilian while you are waiting. Cool on a wire rack then indulge.
- Optional stuffing: In a small bowl combine about ½ cup grated mozzarella or your favorite cheese with ¼ cup finely diced prosciutto. Form the arancini balls then with your thumb, make an indentation and fill it with a teaspoon of the cheese/meat mixture, then close the ball up. Proceed to roll in semolina flour, egg and panko.
Arancini can be eaten alone or served with any type of sauce. Here I served them with a roasted tomato, red bell pepper pesto sauce.