When I think of Sicily, I think of the arancini and when I think of the arancini, I think of Gli Arancini di Montalbano (Montalbano's Croquettes) and then I think of the rest. I lost you there, didn't I? I will explain what Gli Arancini di Montalbano is.
Gli Arancini di Montelbano (Montalbano's Croquettes) is a book written by Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri. In his Montalbano series, the fictional protagonist Inspector Montalbano lives and works in the Sicilian town called Vigata.
Inspector Montalbano's astute detective work, the food and the places are an encapsulation of what and how Sicily is in the poignant words of Camilleri. His books are written in a peculiar mixture of Italian and Sicilian. I don't read his books in the original text because Italian is one thing and Sicilian is another thing so I wait for his English-translated books or best of all, watch the episodes in the television. When they are on, it's a serious night of TV. Ssshhhh!
Gli Arancini di Montalbano has the usual storyline of a case to be solved intertwined with older and other cases which is what the book is really about. Why arancini? Montalbano had already reluctantly planned to fly to Paris for the New Year celebrations to meet his girlfriend, Livia. BUT. Montalbano's housekeeper and cook, Adelina, invited him to her family's New Year's Eve dinner at home. She has two delinquent grown-up sons who are habitually in and out of prison for trivial crimes whom the Inspector helps sometimes. It was a celebration at home because both will be out of jail at the same time. But Moltalbano had to go to Paris. Adelina: "I am cooking some arancini." Montalbano is NOT going to Paris.
His girlfriend is already used to his uncooperative approach to their relationship anyhow, so what's another reason for not joining her again in one of their holidays together?
On New Year's dinner, Montalbano escorted one of his housekeeper's sons out of prison to his mother's house to be able to spend time with his family because at the last minute, he got himself into a minor trouble again and ended up in jail. Since he had been instrumental in solving the murders that Montalbano had been investigating, he was given the night off from jail. Jailer and prisoner arrived at Adelina's house and had a feast of incredible spread and over everything, the arancini.
These unassuming deep fried rice balls transcends any beautifully composed dish. Eating with my eyes is as important as eating with the smell and taste of the food. This is one exception I make. Wrapped around a piece of paper with my hands enclosed around it and catching the peas, rice & meat that keep on falling off make these rice balls a task to eat. But that is what an arancino is all about.
This is the first time that I decided to go on an adventure of arancini-making. Like the cannoli, this is one Sicilian food that holds the reign in my book. I love eating arancini and cannoli together and I usually get this treat when there's an occasion to be together with my husband's family & relatives.
Since I recently ventured in the cannoli making, I decided to try making my own arancini too. To compose my arancini, I was guided by my husband's aunt, giving me explicit instructions on how to compose them. Mixed by the very helpful pointers I got from watching Alessia Vicari, a Sicilian chef, in Gambero Rosso, I was able to come up with this recipe.
My first try came out splendidly and I would like to share with you my little triumph. The length of the instructions may take away your interest in making these but they are actually easy to make so give them a chance. I tried to be as explicit as possible and I hope it helps.
Enjoy these wonderful rice balls!
Makes 15 - 17 arancini
- rice mixture (see recipe below)
- ragù (see recipe below)
- sautèed peas (see recipe below)
- 100 g. any cheese that melts fast and doesn't have a strong taste (I used Caciocavallo.), diced
- 2 egg whites, lightly whisked
- a lot of oil for deep frying like sunflower oil, olive oil, etc.
- Prepare your work area by putting the following around you: sautèed peas, ragù, rice mixture, cheese, egg whites, flour and breadcrumbs.
- Lightly wet the hands.
- Slice a small portion of the rice and put it on your left palm. Using your right hand, press the rice against your palm to make the layer of rice on your thin and compact.
- Spoon some ragù, peas & a few pieces of diced cheese in the middle of the rice in your palm. The more filling you can put, the tastier and better the arancini will be.
- Spoon about a tablespoon of rice and put it on your left palm.
- Slowly push the rice at the border of your palm towards the center to start closing it into a ball. Put about half a tablespoon of rice on top of the filling and slowly close it into a ball about the size of a small orange with help of your right hand. Do it slowly so that the filling will not come out. Once you have a shape of a ball, close your hand around it firmly but not squeezing too hard.
- Put it on the plate of flour and sprinkle flour around it. While you are doing this, keep on pressing the arancino firmly with your hands. In this process, you will feel that the arancino is becoming compact because the flour should absorb the moisture. Shake off the excess flour.
- Dip in the bowl of egg whites quickly, covering the whole arancino.
- Transfer to the plate of breadcrumbs and roll. Once covered, press firmly around hour hands again to make it more compact. Shake off excess. Put on a plate.
- Make the other arancini. Let them rest for a few minutes before deep frying. This way, they set more and become more compact.
- Prepare the thick-bottomed saucepan or deep fryer with a lot of oil on medium-high fire.
- With a slotted spoon, slowly lower the arancino in the very hot oil. The oil needs to be very hot when you deep fry. You will know this when the ball sizzles and bubbles when submerged in the oil. Cook until brown. Take away with a slotted spoon and put on a plate with kitchen paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve hot or warm.
- 75 g. tomato concentrate or paste
- 100 ml. Marsala wine
- 150 ml. water
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 carrot, finely chopped
- 80 g. ground veal or beef
- 80 g. ground pork
- 150 g. passata di pomodoro (tomato puree)
- In a bowl, mix the tomato concentrate, Marsala and water then set aside.
- Over medium heat, in a saucepan, sautè the garlic with extra virgin olive oil. When it turns golden brown, discard.
- Add the chopped onion & carrot. Toast for about 3 minutes then add the meat.
- Pour the tomato concentrate mixture & tomato puree when the meat changes color. Cover. Simmer for an hour on low fire. Stir occasionally. If the sauce is drying up, add hot water.
- Season with salt & pepper.
- 80 grams frozen or fresh peas
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons liquid part of the ragù, without the meat (see recipe above)
- In a small saucepan, over medium heat, sautè the peas in extra virgin olive oil for 1 minute.
- Add the ragù and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Set aside.
- 500 g.Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli, Roma, Originario or Ribes)
- 1 liter water
- pinch of saffron
- 40 g. butter
- 2 eggs yolks
- 3 tablespoons liquid part of the ragù, without the meat (see recipe above)
- 1/2 cup pecorino cheese, grated
- In a thick-bottomed saucepan, over medium heat, toast the rice for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
- Add half of the water and stir. During the cooking of the rice, add water gradually.
- Halfway through cooking, add the salt, saffron & pepper. Overall cooking time of the rice is about 18 - 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through but not soggy and too wet.
- When rice is cooked, transfer to a baking pan or any flat container with low sides. Flatten & press lightly on the baking pan then let it cool.
- When the rice is not too hot anymore, just warm, add the butter divided into small pieces that you can distribute on the rice. Mix the butter lightly with the rice using a fork. Maintain the rice flat & compact on the baking pan.
- When the rice has reached room temperature, add the egg yolks, grated pecorino and ragù then mix with the hands. Flatten on the baking pan again. Set aside.