Sicilian Recipes

Arancini and Saint Lucia: recipe
and tradition

Saint Lucia and tradition.The feast of Saint Lucia is a much loved and awaited appointment in Sicily. On December 13th, in honor of tradition, Sicilians do not eat pasta or bread but we eat “cuccia” (boiled wheat with aromas ) or Arancini: delicious rice balls stuffed with meat. The custom of eating these preparations is linked to a vow made to the Saint in a period a severe famine that struck Syracuse in 1646. Tradition tells that during the Spanish domination in Sicily the city of Syracuse had been hit by a terrible famine. Just at the moment of maximum desperation a ship loaded with grain and cereals arrived  in harbor. This was considered a Santa Lucia’s miracle and on that occasion the wheat was consumed directly boiled and also the rice and rice-based foods.

Introduction.These rice balls are the pride of Sicilian cuisine and deliciously encapsulate the island’s history: the Arabs introduced rice seasoned with saffron and meat, it is thought that the breadcrumb coating originated in the court of Frederick II, the French replaced the meat with “ragoût” and the Spanish brought back tomatoes from the Americas to add the finishing touch. Many centuries come together in one culinary delight. You can savour countless exquisite versions in Sicily today. If you would like to make them at home, here is the recipe in three steps.

Ingredients (for 5-6  people, 10 -12 arancini):

  • Ingredients for the meat sauce: 250 g of beef mince –  40 ml of olive oil – ½ a finely chopped onion – 1 finely chopped carrot – 1 finely chopped stalk of celery – 70 g of frozen peas – 200 g of tomato sauce – ground black pepper
  • Ingredients for the rice: 1.5 l of water – 500 g of Roma rice – 100 g of butter – 1 beaten egg – ½ a sachet of saffron – 60 g of grated pecorino cheese – salt
  • Ingredients for the coating: 2 beaten eggs – 100 g of flour – 100 g of breadcrumbs – seed oil

Making the meat sauce. Brown the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery in olive oil over a low heat. Add the beef mince and stir it to break it up, then brown it. Add the tomato sauce, peas, salt and pepper, then continue cooking for around 35 minutes,until the sauce is very thick and almost dry. Leave it to cool, cover it and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Making the rice. Boil the rice in salted water until it is nicely “al dente”. As soon as you have drained it, add 50 g of butter, the saffron (which should be dissolved in a little hot water) and the grated cheese, then mix it until it is creamy. Add the beaten egg when the rice is almost cold. Mix it all again thoroughly and pour the rice into a large tray, then leave it to cool completely.

Making the arancini. Take the meat sauce, pour the flour and the breadcrumbs into two separate bowls, and beat two eggs in a shallow dish. Put a little rice in your left hand and push down with your finger to make a hole in the middle, then fill it with a spoonful of meat sauce. Use your other hand to cover the top with a similar amount of rice and seal it, making sure the sauce does not leak out as you shape it into a ball. Roll the ball in the flour, then the eggs and finally the breadcrumbs. Repeat until you have used all of the rice. Heat the oil in a chip pan or a deep fat fryer to 170°C-180°C, lower the arancini into the oil and fry them until they are golden brown. Leave them on some kitchen roll to dry, then serve them hot.

You might also like