Arancine: rice balls from Sicily (Vegetarian)

If there’s a food that reminds me of my childwood, it would be arancine! If you’ve never heard of them, read on it’s worth it!

It’s a typical dish from the south of Italy (Sicily, that’s where my parents were born) and it unique to the region. You can find it in bars and bakeries, but the best version is homemade. And because my family in Sicily is quite big, everytime we do arancine is usually for at least 20 people, approximately 2 kg of rice. Quite an effort, and I’m impressed how my grandma can make them so fast, and so delicious!

Arancina (singular) is ball made of saffron flavoured rice, usually filled in a variety of ways. Most common?

  1. A version of bolognese sauce with minced meat, tomatoes and peas.

  2. Ham and cheese. It’s called “Butter" version.

  3. Spinach and cheese.

  4. More varieties include eggplants, other cold cuts or even fish (sword fish and tuna and the gourmet versions).


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I choose this dish for the cooking class because I didn’t just want to share instructions, but I wanted to talk about what Italian food means to me. The flavours and the emotions connected to it. Arancina is for sure connected to many happy, family moments. I never cooked them myself until I discovered I was celiac, for sure I didn’t want to give up on this traditional food, and it’s so easy to turn it into a gluten-free recipe you just need to use the right flour and gluten-free breadcrumbs to coat the arancine.

I wish I could invite you to try it with me! For now, enjoy this recipe and please let me know what you think if you try.

Ingredients (12-14 rice balls)

  • 500 gr rice (carnaroli or vialone nano preferred)

  • 50 gr butter

  • 1 saffran bag

  • 1/2 tbsp salt

Filling Spinach: 500 gr spinach // 200 gr cheese (ideally scamorza, otherwise cheddar or mozzarella for pizza)

To coat the rice balls, roughly (might need to add):

  • 100 gr flour

  • 200 ml water

  • 200 gr breadcrumbs

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NOTE: Arancine is the name used in the city of Palermo (west side), Arancini is the name used in Catania (east side) - there's a big fight to determine where this dish is from!

  1. Boil the rice in abundant water until cooked (it has to be well cooked, a bit softer than a risotto). Remove the excess water, add butter and saffron and mix well. Transfer in a tray or big plate to cook down.

  2. In the meantime cook the spinach and remove the excess water. Place in a bowl and cool down. Add with the cheese and mix well (it must be a dense mix).

  3. Prepare 1 bowl with the breadcrumbs and 1 bowl with the flour + water (it must be a semi dense liquid, similar to crêpes or tempura).

  4. There are 3 steps to create the rice balls: 1) take a couple of spoons of rice in your hand and shape like a ball. Fill the inside with the spinach and cheese mix, and press with your hands to close well the ball. 2) coat with the flour+water liquid and 3) coat with breadcrumbs.

  5. Deep fry the rice balls in abundant olive oil, maximum 3-4 at a time. You can enjoy them hot or even cold.

NOTE ON THE FILLING: the original Arancina is stuffed with a dense Bolognese sauce, no mozzarella. Spinach and cheese is the most common vegetarian alternative, but eggplants and tomato sauce is a very Sicilian combination too. For this version use 200 gr eggplants, 1 can peeled tomatoes, 100 gr frozen green peas and 1/2 onion.

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