1 hour 45 minutes, plus more time to roll the balls if you double the recipe
Last month, I finally made my trip to Sicily, the glorious land of fish, beautiful food, sunshine and Greek and Roman monuments. I landed in Catania and fell in love instantly. I ate some of the best food I have ever had, and was inspired to create some really incredible flavor combinations. I love pasta, and truly appreciate the art of making fresh homemade pasta. With that said, I always consider pasta dishes as a delicious but simple thing to cook when I don’t feel like doing something complex and crazy. Fresh and simple….but…I learned that is not always the case. I ate incredible pasta dishes with complex (and frequently multiple) sauces that intermingled on my plate in an explosion of flavors and visual elements. Creamy ricotta balanced with pitch black squid ink like black snakes making their way through a white sand beach.
I was so thrilled to come home and share the incredible cuisine I experienced with our friends, and this past Saturday, I finally had the opportunity. We hosted 17 of our lovely friends for a traditional Sicilian meal, which, unlike our traditional 3 course dinners, sported four courses. As per Sicilian tradition, we started with an antipasti course of Arancini, Croquettes, and Bruschetta.
To start our meal, we created some amazing Spinach Arancini. Arancini are sold all over Sicily, from bars, cafes, high end restaurants, fish stalls, to little carts on the side of the street or in markets. They are an institution. I have seen Arancini in other parts of Italy, but I have never seen the Sicilian Arancini, which sometimes grows to the size of a baby’s head. The tradition of making these dishes, like many other culture’s quintessential dishes, came out of reusing leftovers. The best Arancini are made from day old risotto, so I recommend making the risotto a day in advance and letting it absorb all of the flavors of the spinach and wine overnight for best results. You can also make the Arancini themselves up to a day before, but make sure you fry them the moment before you are ready to serve.
You can fill them with anything, from meat, to veggies, cheeses, and seafood. Since I was serving seafood for almost every other dish in the meal, I decided to go for a Spinach and Cheese option. The ideal cheese to serve with this is Caciocavallo, which is truly hard to find in Baltimore (go to Whole Foods or Little Italy).
Make sure to leave some extra time for “rolling mishaps,” especially if you are planning on doubling or tripling the recipe. It takes about a minute or two to finish an arancini from rolling, filling, and dipping in egg and bread crumbs. I had the wonderful Nico roll ours (we doubled the recipe and made around 60 balls) and it took him about two hours to finish them up.
To pair with our Spinach Arancini, we also served some incredibly delicious Milk and Cheese Croquettes (the recipe for which I will not share yet, as I am still figuring out how to prevent them from exploding while frying….the taste is divine though!) and a simple to make, but incredibly flavor complex Bruschetta of Uni (Sea Urchin) and Lardo on Squid Ink Bread.
The Primi course, which follows the antipasti, is generally formed of a pasta dish of some sort, and we did not disappoint. We served a trio of delicious seafood pastas. I created a Handmade Pasta with a Creamy and Lemony Ricotta which paired with a Squid Ink Sauce. It was divine! In addition we created a Spaghetti Nero D’Avola with a spicy tomato sauce of Mussels, Razor Clams, and Prawns. Not sure what Speghetti Nero D’Avola means? It means I boiled my pasta in the Nero d’Avola red wine from Sicily instead of water. I saw this for the first time in Sicily, and fell in love! Our final pasta dish was one that seems a bit unconventional for Italy, but is actually a quintessentially Sicilian dish, a Seafood Couscous!
The Secondi course generally consists of meats and fishes. We served an Eggplant Capotana with Swordfish, and a delicious and slow cooked Braised Lamb Shank Stew. Perhaps it was too much food, but I couldn’t think of a single dish to remove from the list.
We finished our meal with Cannoli made completely from scratch! Stay tuned for all of our recipes in the coming days, and keep reading for the Spinach Arancini recipe below!
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 cups carnaroli rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock/li>
- salt and pepper
- 1 pound spinach, steamed, extra moisture squeezed out
- 4 ounces Caciocavallo, dry Italian Provolone, or dry Mozzarella, sliced into pieces about 1/2 inch in size.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup or so breadcrumbs, maybe more
- vegetable oil
- Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven and fry the onions until they are soft and translucent, I wouldn’t brown them, just soften for about 5 minutes or so.
Add the rice and continuously stir until all of the grains are covered in oil, fry for about 2 minutes to make it a bit crispy.
De-glaze with the wine and let it evaporate.
Add the broth in one cup at a time, stirring occasionally, and let it mostly evaporate before adding more.
Stir in the spinach and season to taste.
Allow to cool completely, possibly overnight to allow the flavors to meld together.
- With lightly moistened hands, take a rounded tablespoon of risotto and form into a ball. Poke a finger sized hole in the center and add a piece of cheese. Set aside and repeat with the rest.
- Place flour, bread crumbs, and eggs in three separate bowls.
Dredge each arancini in flour, shake off the excess.
Dip into the egg mixture, drip off excess.
Roll in bread crumbs and set on a platter while you complete the rest.
This can be done a day in advance.
- Heat vegetable oil in a pot that is at least 4 inches deep and as wide as you can fit on your stove top. Throw a little bit of dough (or a sample arancini) in to check whether the oil is hot enough. If the arancini float and turn golden brown in about 4 minutes, you hit the right temperature.
You will probably need to fry them in batches.
Place on paper towel lined platter and serve immediately.