What it is: An arancino is a ball of rice formed around a savory filling and fried to a delicate outer crispness. In their native Sicily, arancini are typically flavored with saffron and stuffed with chopped meat in tomato sauce.
Where it comes from: Arancini date to the 10th-century Kalbid rule of Sicily, when rice and oranges were introduced to the island from the Middle East. Golden brown and about the size of oranges, arancini derive their name from the Italian word for orange, “arancia,” although in the eastern part of Sicily today they’re often cone-shaped.
The plural is usually given the masculine ending — as befits balls, I suppose — although around Palermo and Agrigento, they spell it arancine the feminine way. Similar croquettes are called palline di riso in Naples. In Rome, rice balls filled with mozzarella are known as suppli al telefono, because when you bite into them, the cheese stretches out like telephone wires.
What to do with it: Serve arancini as a light meal or snack, accompanied by tomato sauce. Traditional fillings include meat and green peas, but you can put in anything you like — or dispense with filling altogether. At Il Poggiolo in Hinsdale, Chef Jim Kilberg makes a risotto with sauteed mushrooms and taleggio cheese and forms it into balls without a central filling.
Il Poggiolo’s mushroom and taleggio arancini
Chef Jim Kilberg
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound oyster mushrooms, sliced
2-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
About 2 quarts chicken broth or vegetable stock, heated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
7 cups chicken stock
1 ounce taleggio
2 ounces parmesan, grated
2 teaspoons truffle oil
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour as needed
Beaten eggs as needed
Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) as needed
Oil for frying
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the onions and garlic in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until soft. Add the rice, stirring constantly for 1 minute, then add the wine.
Reduce the heat to medium and continue stirring until the wine is nearly absorbed. Add 3 ounces of hot broth and continue to stir until almost dry; then add another ladleful. Continue the process until rice is just cooked through. Stir in the rosemary, sage, parsley, cheeses, butter, truffle oil, salt and pepper.
Spread the rice mixture onto a baking pan and allow to cool. With wet hands, form the mixture into 2-1/2-ounce balls. Put the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs into shallow bowls and dredge the rice balls first in flour, then egg, then crumbs, until all have been breaded.
Deep-fry the balls in oil at 350 degrees until golden brown. Keep warm in a 250-degree oven until ready to serve. 8 servings.