I have a recipe to share with you that is near and dear to my heart. It is a piece of my history – a food that I gorged myself on many-a-day in the downstairs apartment of my Nana during my childhood in Ridgefield, New Jersey. I still remember the savory smells emanating from the kitchen and the aroma of hot oil as these delicacies were cooked. I remember sneaking into the dining room and seeing them placed under tablecloths to keep warm, sliding my hand underneath the cloth, and sneaking one out into the TV room to enjoy behind everyone’s back. In America, we call them “rice balls.” In Sicilian, we call them:
According to Wikipedia, arancini (which means “little orange,” a name derived from the shape and color of the delicacy) originated as a hand-held meal in 10th Century Sicily. 10 Centuries later, in 1980s New Jersey, they found their way into my house. My personal record is eating six in one day, and these things are the size of a baseball!
Biting into the arancini, you will feel a nice crispy crunch through the breading, followed by the creamy cheesy rice that has the salty, nutty tang of pecorino romano cheese. In the middle, a saucy mixture of ground beef and peas that will tingle your taste buds.
Arancini are a labor of love – they take quite a while to make and require constant attention. We will now work together to make arancini for yourself. Here’s what you need:
1 pound of uncooked white rice
1 1/2 cups of finely grated pecorino romano cheese
1 pound of ground beef (preferably 80/20 chuck)
salt and pepper for taste
2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup of good olive oil
2 cups of smooth tomato sauce (pre-cooked to your personal specifications)
1 pound of frozen petit pois (baby peas)
1 large onion, chopped finely
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 cups of bread crumbs
FOR THE RICE:
Cover the rice with water in a large saucepan until completely submerged. No need to rinse the rice. Cook the rice until starchy and creamy. Stir often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the rice has finished cooking, mix in the pecorino romano cheese thoroughly to create a glutenous mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before handling.
FOR THE MEAT:
Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a wide skillet. Add ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cook thoroughly. Add 1 cup of cooked tomato sauce and mix through. Remove from heat and set aside.
FOR THE PEAS:
Heat 1/2 cup of olive oil in a second skillet. Cook chopped onion and smashed garlic in oil until onion is soft and translucent. Add peas and 1 cup of tomato sauce. Heat until bubbling and then simmer for 5-7 minutes until peas are cooked through.
Take a handful of cheesy rice, mold and press down in the middle to create a cup-like shape. Add 1 tsp of ground beef and 1 tsp of pea mixture. Add some additional rice to cover the savory mixture and mold into a sphere about the size of a baseball. Beat 5 eggs with some water to make an egg wash. Dredge the rice ball in the egg wash, then dredge in bread crumbs.
COOKING THE RICEBALL
In a medium sauce pan heat approximately five cups of vegetable oil to medium heat. Partially submerge the breaded rice ball into the oil. Allow to cook for 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or two forks to turn the rice ball over so that the other side can cook. Cook a further 3 minutes. Remove the rice ball from the oil and place on paper towels to dry off.
Arancini can be stored at room temperature for a little while. Best to keep them covered so that they remain warm while you cook the rest of them. Once cooked, uneaten rice balls (if there are any) should be stored in the refrigerator.
And there you have it. The traditional Sicilian rice ball. Now that I’ve shown you how to cook the best, I have to show you the biggest.
Behold: the jumbo rice ball!
This behemoth can be found at Ciao Baby! in Long Island. It is 3 pounds in weight (that’s right, 48 ounces!!) and topped with melted mozzarella and ricotta over a bed of tomato sauce. note the size of the steak knife plunged into the depths of this beast!
I have yet to try this delicious version of my favorite food, but Long Island isn’t too far away from where I live! Perhaps a trip is in order!