The arancino or arancina is a specialty of Sicilian cuisine officially recognized and included in the list of traditional Italian food products (PAT) of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies with the name of “rice arancini”.
Origins and History –
Arancino is a food in the form of a ball or a cone of breaded and fried rice, with a diameter of 8-10 cm, generally stuffed with ragù, peas and caciocavallo, or diced ham and mozzarella.
There are variations of the shape, with ovoid or cone-shaped arancine and its condiments. The cone shape, also present in the Catania area, seems to be due to an inspiration given by Etna: in fact, cutting the tip of the freshly cooked dish releases the steam that would resemble the smoke of the volcano, while the crunchy surface of the breading is red the content would evoke the lava in its two stages, hot and cold. Also in the Catania area, the ball shape of the product has generated a juxtaposition with corpulent people, defined with a tone of derision arancinu che ‘peri (arancino con i mani, or arancino walking), to indicate a particularly round person.
Going to see, moreover, the New Sicilian-Italian vocabulary of Traina (1868) under the entry arancinu refers to crucchè: “kind of gentle meatballs made of rice or potatoes or other”, to be compared with recipe 199 (Croquettes of rice compote) of Science in the kitchen, which indicates a certainly salty preparation.
In any case, as in other historical repertoires, neither meat nor tomato are ever mentioned, and in fact it is difficult to say when these two ingredients entered the recipe: of the tomato, among other things, it is known that it began to be cultivated in the south of the peninsula only at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In light of these facts, the link between the Sicilian supplì and the Arab tradition no longer seems so certain, while one might think that it is a dish born in the second half of the nineteenth century as a rice cake, but that it was transformed almost immediately. in a savory specialty.
In recent times, however, the variations to this specialty are many and with different preparations and shapes but always maintaining the external breading.
The name derives from the original shape and the typical golden color, reminiscent of an orange, but it must be said that in eastern Sicily the arancini more often have a traditional conical shape, to symbolize the Etna volcano.
Generally, in the western part of the island this specialty is known as “arancina”, while in the eastern part it is called “arancino”. However, the term “arancina” is equally prevalent in areas of the eastern part such as the provinces of Ragusa and Syracuse, as is “arancino” in the provinces of Enna and Messina.
On the correct wording if you say arancino or orange, according to the writer Gaetano Basile the dish should be indicated in the feminine, as the name derives from the fruit of the orange, the orange in fact, which in Italian is declined in the feminine. However, in Sicilian the feminine declension of fruits is not as frequent as in Italian, and in the specific case the orange is called arànciu; therefore the name of this dish is originally in the masculine (arancinu), as evidenced by the Sicilian-Italian Dictionary of Palermo Giuseppe Biundi, who in 1857, in the lemma arancinu, wrote: “[…] we say among us [in Sicily] a sweet rice dish made in the shape of orange tree “. In turn, the Italian term arancino derives from the Sicilian arancinu.
There are also sources relating to the term arancinu, the oldest of which seems to be the Sicilian etymological, Italian and Latin vocabulary of Michele Pasqualino published in Palermo in 1785, in which it is reported under the corresponding entry “of the color of orange, rancio, croceus “. Curiously, just beyond Pasqualino reports that the term orange referred to the citrus × aurantium tree, while aranciu to its fruit, contrary to what happens in the Italian language. From this edition until the mid-nineteenth century the lemma arancinu mainly indicated a type of color, a hypothesis also endorsed by the linguist Salvatore Trova who also attests the spread of the term arancina in the Trapani area and in places such as Avola, Favara, Giarratana, Noto, Ragusa, Riesi and Vittoria; while the first source to mention arancine would be the novel I Viceré by the Catania writer Federico de Roberto, published in 1894.
The Accademia della Crusca also expressed itself on this topic, which divides a large part of western Sicily with some parts of eastern Sicily, affirming the correctness of both terms, although the masculine form continues to be indicated by all modern dictionaries of Italian language (no one reports the feminine form).
However, the feminine is perceived as more correct – at least in formal use – because gender opposition is typical in our language, with rare exceptions, to differentiate the tree from the fruit. It can be hypothesized that the prestige of the standard linguistic code, towards which urban areas have always been more receptive, has led the orange feminine form to prevail over the orange masculine one in the use of Palermo speakers: they, having adopted the feminine form for the fruit, they consequently used it in the altered form also to indicate the rice croquette: therefore, arancina. For the Ragusa and Syracusan area, the fact that the most widespread dialectal form to indicate the fruit is not aranciu but partuallu may have influenced: the radical diversity of the local outcome may have meant that when the Italian term was used to indicate the fruit has been made in the codified form orange, hence arancina.
It could then be concluded that those who say arancino Italianize the morphological dialectal model, while those who say arancina do nothing but re-propose the model of standard Italian. This supposition would find confirmation in the only attestation of arancina found in the literature of the late nineteenth century: the “arancine of rice each as big as a mellone” of the Viceré (1894) of the Catania-based Federico De Roberto, who followed a Tuscan matrix. At the end of the century the female variant was then recorded by Corrado Avolio in his Sicilian dialectal dictionary of the Syracusan area (an unpublished manuscript of the Municipal Library of Noto, compiled between 1895 and around 1900) and later by Giacomo De Gregorio in his Contributions to the novel etymological lexicon with particular consideration to the Sicilian dialect and subdialects (“Studi Glottologica Italiani”, VII, 1920, p. 398) which represent the Palermo area. Arancina was also recorded by Italian lexicography: by Zingarelli of 1917, who glossed it as “pie of rice and minced meat, in Sicily”, and by Panzini in the 1927 edition; afterwards, however, there is no longer any trace of it.
In any case, it is registered under the name of “rice arancini” at the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies.
However this preparation, inspired by citrus fruits in appearance and name, are a very happy synthesis of the various historical influences present in the area: the Arab one for the rice and saffron, the French one for the ragù, the Spanish one for the tomato and the Greek for cheese.
According to some historians, this food was born in the convents, for others in the baronial houses, while there are those who make them derive from the tradition of popular cuisine, where the leftovers of a lunch were recycled in an imaginative and tasty way.
However, the origins of the arancino are much discussed. Being a popular product it is difficult to find a reference of some kind on historical sources that can clarify exactly which origins and which processes have led to today’s product with all its variants.
However, given the constant presence of saffron, it suggests an early medieval origin, in particular linked to the period of Muslim domination, a time when the custom of consuming rice and saffron seasoned with herbs and meat was introduced on the island.
The original appearance and name of the dish must also be traced back to the Arabs themselves, since they used to combine names of fruits with round-shaped preparations, as reported by Giambonino da Cremona.
The invention of breading in the tradition in turn is often traced back to the court of Frederick II of Swabia, when people were looking for a way to take the dish with them on trips and hunting trips. The crunchy breading, in fact, would have ensured an excellent preservation of the rice and the seasoning, as well as a better portability.
From the historical point of view, the first written documentation that explicitly speaks of the arancini as a dish is the Sicilian-Italian Dictionary of Giuseppe Biundi of 1857, which testifies to the presence of “a sweet rice dish made in the shape of orange orang”.
This reference leads us to believe that the arancino was born as a sweet, presumably during the festivities in honor of Saint Lucia, and only later became a savory dish. In fact, it seems that the first purchases of one of the typical elements making up the salty arancino, the tomato, are dated to 1852, five years before the Biundi edition: the spread of this vegetable and its massive use in Sicilian gastronomy must hypothesize it is later than that date and – probably – in 1857 it had not yet become part of the arancino. The absence of previous references to Biundi could actually indicate a relative “modernity” of the product, at least in its salty version.
However, considerable doubts remain about the origin of the sweet version: the combination with Saint Lucia and the typical products linked to her celebrations opens up various possibilities of interpretation. According to tradition, in 1646 a ship loaded with wheat landed in Palermo which put an end to a serious famine, an event remembered with the creation of the cuccìa, a product based on unground wheat grains, honey and ricotta. It is therefore not unthinkable that the first sweet arancini are a transport version of the same cuccìa. Regarding the link between the two products and the celebrations in honor of the saint, still today on December 13 of each year, it is tradition both in Palermo and Trapani and in other Sicilian provinces to celebrate the day of Saint Lucia, in which we refrain from consuming flour-based foods, eating arancini (of all types, shapes and sizes) and cuccìa.
Then the great migration of Sicilians around the world meant that this product spread to various parts of the world: in fact, beyond Sicily, there are takeaways in the places where migrants settled, bringing regional products with them. A second phenomenon is due to the creation of quality rotisseries in Italy and abroad by established chefs and Sicilian entrepreneurs.
The popularity of the arancino or arancina has also crossed the threshold of the world of culture. Popular chefs such as Alessandro Borghese call the dish “arancina”, preparing it in the round shape that is traditional in western Sicily. Several references to this gastronomic product also appear in the literature: the character of Andrea Camilleri’s novels – Inspector Montalbano, a well-known admirer of this dish in literary fiction – is perhaps the most popular of them and the first collection by the Sicilian author dedicated to the detective. it is even entitled Gli arancini di Montalbano and almost entirely dedicated to the inspector’s passion for this dish, which he calls masculine.
This is how, between history, traditions and notoriety, the arancino (or arancina) is considered by the Sicilians to be the most characteristic rotisserie product of their region and almost all the big cities claim its authorship.
Geographic area –
Arancino or arancina is a product whose authorship is complex is difficult but which certainly finds its place, origin and different traditions within the entire Sicilian territory.
However, the different evolution of this product means that in the various provinces, and within them, in some municipalities both the name and the methods of preparation have differentiated over time.
Raw material –
Given the differentiation in ingredients, as well as in forms, there are no standard raw materials but the constant presence of external breading.
However, among the most present raw materials we find rice, saffron, meat sauce and then, peas, butter, mozzarella, and other ingredients, as mentioned, in the various methods of preparation and various traditions.
As mentioned above, the raw materials that can “participate” in the preparation of arancini are different, but the most classic recipe is that of arancino with meat sauce.
Therefore the most popular arancino in Sicily is that with meat sauce (for convenience, a substitute for the original sauce), followed by that with butter (with mozzarella, ham and, sometimes, bechamel) and that with spinach (seasoned also with mozzarella). In addition, the arancino “alla norma” (with aubergines, also called “alla catanese”) and the pistachio from Bronte are also popular in the Catania area. The versatility of the arancino has been exploited for various experiments. In fact, there are arancino recipes that include, in addition to rice, of course, the use of mushrooms, sausage, gorgonzola, salmon, chicken, swordfish, seafood, pesto, shrimp as well as squid ink (ink). There are sweet variants: the arancini are prepared with cocoa and covered with sugar (usually on the occasion of the feast of Saint Lucia); there are gianduia cream (especially in the Palermo area) and chocolate, as well as black cherry. Furthermore, to facilitate the distinction between the various flavors, the shape of the arancino can vary.
Production Method –
To prepare arancini, at least the more traditional ones, the original rice is cooked al dente in abundant broth until completely absorbed. It is cooled on a marble surface. Formed of discs of this dough, a portion of filling is placed in the center of each and they close. Then they are passed into a fluid batter of water and flour and breaded in breadcrumbs, ready to be fried.
To cook the rice of the arancino, the use of saffron is widespread to give a golden color to the rice, very compact and clearly separated from the filling.
In any case, the original recipe for arancini does not include the use of eggs, nor for the filling (the original in fact contains a lot of starch and does not need eggs to be tied), nor for the breading.
Gastronomic use –
Arancini or arancine are a product that finds a very varied gastronomic use and also linked to some historical traditions such as that of December 13 of the anniversary of Saint Lucia.
However, this product is consumed at any time of the day, either as a single meal during work or study breaks.
Its characteristic preparation and completeness of food makes this product often a meal that does not require condiments or the accompaniment of other food preparations.
In addition, due to their easy portability, this product is often purchased in rotisseries, bakeries and bars and brought in glove boxes and consumed when there is no possibility to cook something.
The arancino is, in essence, a highly versatile preparation that makes its nutritional completeness an often complete food.