Photos by Bryan Pace.
In Sicily, arancine (or arancini, as they are also known) are as varied as they are ubiquitous. The beloved fried rice balls, which can be stuffed with anything from ground meat, cheese or even chocolate, are on the menu in most cafés.
Now southern Italy’s beloved street food is popping up around New York City—on high-end menus and, most notably, at Arancini Bros. The shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which specializes in the fried snack, blends traditional Sicilian and modern American flavors in arancine fillings like strawberry with mascarpone, pistachio pesto with vegan mozzarella and butter nut squash with pine nuts and sage.
The origins of arancine are humble and practical. Back in the day, arancine were an easy way for Sicilian workers to get a filling meal on the go. Like a well-packed sandwich, the fist-size balls travel well and are a cheap and easy source of protein and carbs.
Chef Salvatore Fraterrigo, a native of Trapani, Sicily, who is now executive chef at Centro Vinoteca in the West Village, learned how to make arancine from his mother and grandmother. But when he arrived in New York almost a decade ago, he was disappointed to find mostly lackluster versions of the snack.
“A lot of people have a bad impression [of arancine] from pizzerias. They’re greasy. They’re not fresh,” Fraterrigo says. Instead, he notes, they should be crispy on the outside, soft inside and bursting with flavorful fillings.
For the time being, arancine are not always easy to find in New York. But that may soon change.
Dave Campaniello and Will Levatino, co-owners of Arancini Bros., are planning to launch an arancine food truck sometime next year.
Fraterrigo also hopes to find a way to introduce New Yorkers to his arancine, which span the spectrum from the very traditional “al burro”—stuffed ham with béchamel sauce and mozzarella (recipe below)—to a Spanish-inflected variety that are infused with squid ink and stuffed with spicy shrimp.
“I want to show the different ways of [making] arancine in this country,” Fraterrigo says. “You taste tradition, family [and] Sicily when you eat them.”
“Al Burro” Arancine Ingredients:
3 ounces cooked ham, diced
¾ ounce béchamel sauce
¾ ounce fresh mozzarella, diced
Oil (for frying)
Dry bread crumbs (or panko bread crumbs, pulverized in food processor)
¼ pound white flour
“Al Burro” Arancine Directions:
* Mix first three ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. This is your filling.
* Prepare the rice (instructions below).
* Place a small amount of rice in the palm of your hand and form a half ball out of the rice.
* With your finger, make a hole in the center of the half ball and insert the filling mixture into the hole.
* Take more rice and form the upper half of the ball, being careful to keep the filling inside. Then shape the rice into a ball.
* In a mixing bowl, mix the cold water and flour. Use a whisk to make a paste with the flour—be sure that it is not too dense and does not have lumps.
* Dredge the rice balls in the water-and-flour mixture, one at a time. Cover the entire ball. Then roll the rice balls in the bread crumbs.
* Fry the rice balls in boiling oil for about 5 minutes—or until they have a golden color.
* Let the freshly fried rice balls cool on a surface lined with absorbent paper to soak up some of the oil.
* Eat warm (within 30 minutes) and enjoy!
Arancine Rice Ingredients:
1 pound Arborio rice
¼ gallon chicken broth
Pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Arancine Rice Directions:
* In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil. (Make sure the broth is well salted.)
* Add the rice and the saffron to the broth. Using a wooden spoon, stir the rice continuously.
* When all the chicken broth has been absorbed by the rice, add the Parmesan and butter and mix well.
* Place the cooked rice on a cookie sheet and cool it until it reaches room temperature.