One of the greatest inventions of Southern Italy is the rice ball, or as we Italians call it “arancia,” which literally is translated to mean “orange.” The balls are the shape and size of a real orange and have the golden color to almost match one.
The dish is real peasant food in that you could actually use leftover rice or risotto or you can start from scratch, but either way it’s a very filling dish made with simple and inexpensive ingredients. It’s rare you see this dish on a restaurant menu, but one place in Brooklyn, NY that does it right is a little spot in Red Hook called Ferdinando’s, and that’s their ball pictured up top. They serve it with a big dollop of fresh, warmed ricotta cheese and grated Parmiggiano Reggiano, sitting in a bed of tomato sauce. It’s as good as it gets as everything in this little restaurant is made from scratch.
When I first went to Sicily, where this dish originates, the Arancine (the plural and the diminutive) were oval shaped, not round. I asked about this and the bar where I bought them said they make the round ones without meat in the center, only cheese and peas, and the oval ones with meat. Either variety is delicious!
If you want to try to make this recipe at home, try this one from a real Sicilian nonna, Rosa Clemente Maggiore:
Arancia or Sicilian Rice Balls
- 2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
- 1 quart chicken stock or bouillon
- 3 tablespoons softened butter
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onions
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 pound ground veal, beef, chicken or pork
- 1/4 pound mozzarella cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 can tomato paste (6 ounces)
- 1 can water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/3 cup frozen peas
- 4 egg whites, slightly beaten
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- Enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the pan 2 inches deep
Combine rice, chicken stock and butter in large pan. When chicken stock begins to boil, turn heat down low; stir rice once, then cover pan tightly and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Rice should be soft and slightly sticky so that it will hold together.
Set aside rice to cool. Add egg yolks and parmesan cheese to cooled rice; stir well. Refrigerate while making the other parts of the recipe.
In a saucepan, heat extra virgin olive oil and sauté onions and celery until golden, about five minutes. Add meat and brown. Stir in tomato paste, water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Add peas and cook for five minutes longer.
Add enough extra virgin olive oil to a pan with high sides so that it is about two inches deep, then turn to medium-high heat. While extra virgin olive oil is heating, shape rice mixture into round balls, about 1/2 cup each. With your finger, make a hole in each rice ball. Add one tablespoon of the meat filling and the cheese cube and cover the holes with more rice. Dip rice balls in egg whites and roll in bread crumbs until thoroughly coated. Drop carefully into heated extra virgin olive oil, a few at a time, and fry until golden, turning around for about 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Serve warm or at room temperature and with a side dish of tomato sauce.