As soon as Pim decided the theme for this new edition of Is My Blog Burning I knew what I wanted to make. I had a rice dish I'd been wanting to try out for months and I only needed an excuse. The last few days have been so busy (as you might have noticed from the lack of posts) that I almost didn't get a chance to make what I wanted, but in the end I managed to. I did finish 10 minutes ago though.
The dish I made is a Sicilian speciality: arancine al sugo. Arancine, or arancini, to put it simply, are stuffed rice balls, covered in bread crumbs and deep fried. The name means little oranges and they're meant to remind of the fruit for their size, shape (in most cases and colour. Today arancine are made with a number of fillings but the original ones are the ones "al sugo". There are probably as many recipes for this dish as there are Sicilian families. The shape can vary: round or conic. The rice can be cooked with the absorption method or like a risotto, with or without saffron. The stuffing can also vary a lot: a special tomato sauce, ragu, is a constant, but small peas, bechamel sauce, cheese can be added or not. Looking at a few recipes and following my own taste I put together my own recipe. I decided to stay true to the "little oranges" idea and made mine round and with saffron.
I started yesterday making ragu. Ragu comes from the French ragout but has come to have a special meaning in southern Italian cooking: a rich tomato sauce with meat, cooked for a long time. In the classical recipes the tomato comes in as strattu (in Sicily) or conserva (in Naples), a sun dried tomato concentrate: missing that a normal concentrate will do. For the ragu I used:
400 g (14 oz) pork shoulder, or other cut for braising, in one piece
4 Tbs red wine
1 medium onion, finely chopped
200 g (7 oz) tomato triple-concentrate
2 Tbsp olive oil
Chose a pot just slightly bigger than your piece of meat. Heat olive oil and onion over medium heat till the onions start to sizzle. Add the meat and sear on all sides till golden brown, remove. Add the wine to the onions left in the pot and once the alcohol has evaporated add the concentrate. Pour some hot water in the pot to dilute the concentrate to a more fluid consistence, about 1 glass will do. Add salt with moderation (I added 2 tsp plus more at the end) and place the meat in the pot once more. The sauce should cover the meat. If it doesn't, add a bit more water. Cook over low heat, partially covered, at least 3 hours at a lazy bubble, or, as the Neapolitan say pippiando, i.e. a bubble every few seconds and not more. The sauce should be quite thick at the end so if after 2 hours the sauce looks still runny remove the lid completely. At the end taste, eventually correct the salt and let cool. Keep for following day. This makes a lot more than needed for the arancini. Use the rest as pasta sauce, for lasagne, gnocchi and similar.
The next day, today that is, I started making a saffron risotto with 500 grams (just over a pound) of arborio rice. Meanwhile I cooked a few frozen peas in a little butter. Once the rice was done I spread it on a large plate and let it cool. In this time I removed some of the ragu meat and chopped it finely. I also diced some cheese: I used scamorza but actually a young caciocavallo or provolone would be better. In the end I put my so called "mise en place" together.
Above: ragu sauce, chopped meat, peas and cheese. In the big red plate the cooled rice.
To assemble the arancini I first took a handful of rice, flattened it and started placing the filling in the middle: sauce, meat, peas and cheese (as seen below). On top of that came some more sauce and another, somewhat smaller handful of rice. I pressed the rice around the filling to get a sort of ball, trying to avoid filling leaks. With the amount of rice I had I made 8 arancine.
The arancine then got a coating of beaten egg and bread crumbs. Once coated the arancine are ready to be fried but it is better to wait some time and to cool them before doing so. For this reason I put my finished arancine (in one layer, to avoid them getting squished) in the fridge.
I removed them from the fridge about 30 minutes before frying, to bring them a bit back to temperature. I then heated enough oil for the arancine to float in (about 2 litres) and fried them a little at the time, to avoid cooling the oil too much, till the crust was golden brown.
As with any deep-fried dish these are best eaten straight away. In this way the crust will be deliciously crispy, the rice and filling hot and the cheese melted. One Is actually a meal by itself but I never manage to eat less than three :-)).
edited on Monday 24th May while breakfasting on a cold arancina. Yep, I like them even cold.