Arancini have been made in Sicily for 1,000 years and it’s easy to see why these fried rice croquettes are so popular. They’re a fine example of the culinary genre known as Cucina Povera, usually roughly translated as Peasant Cooking, or the Poor Man’s Kitchen. In my case, the poor woman.
The spirit of Cucina Povera is an approach that goes against the cultural norm in Australia although this mode of Italian cooking is becoming ‘fashionable’. It’s about making do with what you’ve got and transforming humble ingredients into dishes that are more than the sum of their parts
Wondering what rice was doing in Sicily a thousand years ago? It’s certainly not grown there today. Rice was introduced during the Kalbid rule, the Arab period. Its cultivation, of course, requires plenty of water and the Arabs built innovative and highly efficient irrigation systems in Sicily. During their 220 year rule, they brought a sophistication and refinement unknown to other parts of Europe, extending the ancient Roman irrigation works and building a vast number of reservoirs and water towers.
You can still see the Arabic influence in this cloister
and the cathedral floor in Monreale
In Palermo where I bought these little munchies from various street stalls, the balls were round, while in Catania they were cone-shaped.
My Italian was corrected more than once when I asked for arancini, they’re called arancine, in the feminine, in Sicily. I also came across another variant, arancinu, which I understood as the Sicilian way of naming things. But no matter what you call them, they’re delicious, crisp and crunchy with a melt in your mouth filling, and very, very filling.