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Arancini di Riso


No Sicilian holiday dinner or family gathering is complete without these golden rice balls.

Arancini means little oranges. Although the taste of orange is featured in many Sicilian dishes, there is not even a hint of it anywhere in this recipe from Aunt Marina Planeta of Sicily's Planeta winemaking family (scroll down below to read more information). However, the saffron will give the rice a nice orange tint, and it will help to keep in mind that each rice ball should be about the same size and shape as a small orange or tangerine. No Sicilian holiday dinner or family gathering is complete without these delightful appetizers. (The recipe below will make two different types,  one meat and the other cheese.)

WINE RECOMMENDATIONS: For the cheese-filled balls, consider a creamy white like the Planeta 2007 Chardonnay; the meat-filled balls pair beautifully with a robust red like the Planeta La Segreta 2008 Rosso.

Number of Servings
2 Dozen Arancini
For the rice:
1 pound Arborio or Carnoroli Risotto
¼ cup olive oil
¼ pound butter
4-5 cups chicken stock
1 small onion, finely diced
Pinch saffron
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt to taste

For the meat filling:
½ pound lean ground beef
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 large onion, finely diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
¼ cup red wine
2 pinches cinnamon
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

For the cheese filling:
½ pound mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp flour

For the outer coating:
4 beaten eggs
2 cups breadcrumbs
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan, add finely diced onion, and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add the rice to the saucepan, and stir over medium heat until lightly toasted. Slowly add the chicken stock in ¼ cup increments, stirring until each pour is absorbed, and then add more. Cook until the rice is al dente. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave and stir the saffron into the butter until evenly colored. Turn the cooked rice into a bowl, and stir in the melted butter and grated cheese. Set aside.

In a small sauté pan, heat the butter until foaming, and whisk in the flour. Turn heat to low, and whisk in the milk in small amounts until thickened. (You have just made a béchamel.) Allow to cool, and stir in the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

Roll the beef mixture into twelve balls, and roll the cheese mixture into twelve balls. Spread a thin layer of rice on the palm of your hand, place either a beef or cheese ball in the center, and close the rice around the center, patting to make a ball the size of a small orange. Place the rice balls on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. In a heavy bottomed pot or deep fryer, heat oil to 350 F. One at a time, dip the rice balls in beaten egg, and then roll in breadcrumbs to coat. Fry a few at a time, until golden brown. Allow the oil to come back up to temperature before adding the next batch. You may keep the finished arancini on a platter in a 250 F oven until done frying all of them. (Guard them carefully with a wooden spoon. Sicilian grandmothers are known to strike arancini thieves on any exposed body parts.) These may be made a few days ahead and refrigerated.
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