Here is some classic Sicilian snack food--arancini means "little oranges," probably evoking the citrus production of southern Sicily. And also because they look like oranges, if oranges were fried balls of rice. I was at home for the holiday and my mom wanted to make these for Christmas Eve dinner this year. It was sort of experimental because we didn't use risotto as the base but instead used sushi rice, however it will be more flavorful if you use a basic risotto recipe instead. If you've never had them before, arancini are kind of amazing--crunchy and creamy all at the same time. They taste familiar but maybe that's just because croquettes are fairly culturally universal. My father and I have the exact same memories of eating arancini in Sicily, although from different points in time--we both remember buying them on the ferry in little paper sleeves or boats and just completely scarfing them because we were so hungry for whatever reason. My mom pointed out how easy it would be to fill these with anything you would like--they could even be vegetarian, with a mushroom filling--but we made a traditional style with a meat ragu and a small cube of fresh mozzarella in the center of a pocket of rice.
Mom made a small amount of meat sauce, using probably no more than half a pound of ground beef sautéed together with a small amount of minced onion and garlic. To this she adds a scant 3/4 cup of crushed tomatoes, a dash of salt, then allows it to simmer together for about 20 minutes. It should not be wet or saucy--really it is just a cooked meat filling. She adds about 1/2 cup green peas, because that's what is usually inside arancini filling. This isn't a very good picture, but this is about what the meat/pea ragu should look like:As I said before, the rice she prepared was actually Japanese sticky rice, rather than arborio. You can do the same--just cook a cup of sushi rice according to package instructions, mixing in a pinch of saffron as it steams. Otherwise, make a basic risotto by sautéing 1/2 minuced onion in butter until barely soft, then adding 1 cup arborio rice. Sauté the rice and onion for another 3 minutes, then add in 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Continue to stir and add chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time (for about 5 cups worth) until the rice has absorbed all the liquid--this usually takes about 35-40 minutes and a lot of patience. Add a pinch of saffron and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the rice as it cooks. When it is done you shall have a sticky pot of golden rice that can be spread out to cool and used in your arancini. This is a more flavorful approach than is using just plain rice. Additionally you will need one ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into small 1/2" cubes. To assemble your arancini, cup a small amount of rice in your hand. Make a little pocket for the filling that will get stuffed inside. Put a heaping tablespoon of the meat and pea filling into the pocket, then press a piece of the mozzarella on top of that. This is a terrible picture of that process, but you just try keeping up with a speedy, judgemental Sicilian lady and we'll see how good your photos turn out.Then you must seal the arancini up, making an attractive little ball of rice that could be mistaken for an orange. Mom does this by wetting her hands lightly and mushing another scant handful of rice over the top.When I try to do it, she goes, "no, no, no. Like this."Beat two eggs with a tablespoon or so of water and lightly dip the arancini balls in this egg wash.Then roll the dipped rice balls in bread crumbs until nicely covered. Try to get them all about the same size.When you are all done molding, dipping and rolling, it is time to fry. Get a good solid pot and fill it halfway with oil. We used canola, but any good, flavorless frying oil will do fine. Put enough in the pot so that the arancini will be almost covered up. Our dutch oven held about 4 at a time, so this is frying in batches. My mom has to stand on a stepstool in her kitchen when she fries things. I thought it was cute, then I remembered that I stand on one too.Something else my mom does that I do? She drinks sherry out of cute little glasses while cooking and I drink paint thinner and Everclear cocktails, but really it's the same thingYou can see they are starting to get golden, almost orangey in color...As they came out of the oil, we rested them on a baking rack meant for baguettes. They fit perfectly and it justifes the existence of an otherwise overly specialized piece of kitchen equipment (unless you bake french bread constantly, in which case it is perfectly well justified already).Serve them warm to the delight of family and ferry travelers alike. Here's a bonus picture of Paul enjoying his arancini a few hours later that evening.