When I lived in Italy I shared a flat with my good friend from university and two lovely Italians. Over the year there was a lot of cultural exchange as the Italians introduced us to the best of their country: gelato, good coffee, piadine; and the Brits tried to dispel the myth that our food is terrible. We baked hearty cottage pies and stuffed our suitcases with crumpets, cheddar, Marmite and all the necessary items for a proper cream tea. For her birthday our Sicilian flatmate wanted a taste of home and decided to make arancini, deep-fried rice croquettes, a speciality from her home island that often feature at special occasions. She called her mother to get the family recipe and then we gathered round our dining table for the afternoon while she patiently taught us the correct method to make them.
Arancini, or little oranges, so called beacuse of their shape and colour, are a treasure of Sicily and her islanders will go to great lengths to get to eat them. They come in various flavours and with all sorts of fillings; the most common (I hear) uses ragu and mozzarella and is the version I was taught back on that November day sat in the flat with my friends. The crunchy, fried balls of rice start life as a basic risotto flavoured with parmesan which, when chilled, turns sticky and thick, perfect for containing hot, melted mozzarella. Coated in breadcrumbs and fried until golden and crisp, no wonder they are so moreish! Some recipes use the ragu strictly as a filling; the way I was taught you stir it into the rice so that every bite has some savoury meat sauce. Every cook has his or her own way of making arancini, and, as they say on the BBC, other rice croquettes are available. Palline di riso are popular in Naples and pyramid-shaped croquettes filled with cheese are known as Supplì in Rome.
So this is my version, heavily influenced by my Sicilian friend who in turn was using the ingredients available in Emilia Romagna rather than her home town. It is by no means authentic but similar enough I hope, to have a taste of Italy, maybe even the sunny shores of Sicily, at home. The major, possibly sacrilegious, change is to cut out the deep frying (which terrifies me and is wholy unsafe in my current cobbled-together kitchen) in favour of the oven-baked route. You could call my recipe healthier but, being honest, there’s nothing healthy about these treats and there’s no point pretending so. To me they are more accessible, less scary and absolutely delectable. A warm reminder of my year away.
Arancini di riso
- 250g risotto rice
- 900ml hot water or stock
- 25g butter
- 50g grated parmesan
- 350g ragu/bolognese sauce (I made a large batch of the sauce from this recipe a while ago and keep it in portions in the freezer)
- 1 egg
- 125g mozzarella
For the coating:
- 1 egg
- 300g dry, fine breadcrumbs
- olive oil spray (I use this one)
Place the rice and half of the water or stock in a medium pan and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladleful of liquid and cook until it has been absorbed. Continue in this way until the rice cooked and of a risotto-like consistency. Mine took 18 minutes but check your pack to make sure. You may not need all the liquid, you may need a touch more. Stir in the butter, parmesan and the ragu. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Cover the rice and leave to cool. Once cool, stir in the beaten egg and chill for at least 2 hours.
Grease a baking tray with olive oil and set aside.
Once your rice is cold it should be more solid and easier to shape. Wet your hands and take a spoonful of rice, in the palm of your hand form a ball then, using your thumb, make an indentation in the middle. Add a dessert spoonful of ragu into the centre of the rice followed by a cube of mozzarella.
Cupping your hand fold the rice around the filling and pinch closed. Roll to neaten the shape into a ball.
Roll the ball in the flour then dip into the beaten egg. Coat in bread crumbs and place on to your prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining rice and filling.
Heat your oven to 200°C. Spray the arancini with olive oil and bake for 20–25 minutes until golden and crisp.