Sicily: Primi

*It has been a long time since our last post and with one new job and one new house it seemed about time to add a new post to the list too. As it is that time of year again we thought we would do a retrospective on our summer travels from 2016 (check out our instagram feed for pics).*

Don Corleone, A View from the Bridge, The Leopard: that would have been the total sum of my knowledge and experience of Sicily. Yet so much has been written about this wonderful island, the football to Italy’s high-heeled boot. More importantly, all of it is true. Sleepily defying any accusations of hyperbole you happily drive past swathes of olive trees, an incredible vineyard selling their produce by the gallon at the end of the street and Etna smouldering gently (or fiercely) above you.

As with all Italian holidays (and we’ve had a few now), it always comes back to the food. Sicily was never going to be a disappointment and we had some amazing meals, be that slow-cooked donkey in central Catania (sorry Charlie and Libby but they were very tasty) or making our own attempts at a few classics. Here is small plate recipe for you to try out, be that with friends in the warmer weather or to give you some inspiration before you go booking those flights for this year’s adventure.

Arancini NeroScreen Shot 2016-08-03 at 10.47.06

A shot of our own dinner which generally ended up being big affairs. Never get a shop thinking it will last you a few days – you’ll be lucky to get through the evening and have enough in the fridge for breakfast.

Traditionally the zenith of Italian ‘leftover’ cuisine, shelves of golden orbs are to be seen everywhere in Sicily and the rest of Italy, and who can blame them? Bitting into the crisp skin of an arancino al ragu with its pointed tip making it look like a fried teardrop is all persuasion anyone will need to start applying for Italian citizenship!

Meaning ‘little oranges’, arancini have a number of local variants. The teardrop shape is apparently far more of a Sicilian phenomenon while elsewhere they tend to broadly resemble their namesakes.

While we say this is a ‘leftover’ dish, we started making these with the soul aim of producing arancini. In the Italian food bible, The Silver Spoon, the recipe for ‘Arancini alla Siciliana’ equally makes no mention of using up what risotto has been left behind – it is a dish of the highest calibre in its own right. You are welcome to make the risotto on its own but whatever you do you won’t regret it!

Makes 16

For the risotto:

1 white onion, diced
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp butter
50g oyster mushrooms (or chestnut mushroom if unavailable)
500g black risotto rice
300ml white wine
300ml stock
2 generous pinches of salt
25g parmesan, grated

For the arancini:

4 medium sized eggs
1 ball of mozzarella, in 1cm cubes
1ltr sunflower oil
100g fine bread crumbs

To make the risotto, in medium sized saucepan sauté the onions with the butter and olive oil until glassy. Chop the mushrooms finely before adding to the onions to soften. Once they have softened add the rice to the pan and stir to ensure that it is fully combined with the onions and mushrooms and get a beautifully rich coating of butter and olive oil.

Add the stock, white wine and salt to the saucepan and lower the heat to a simmer. Leave on this heat for 20 minutes or until the rice is soft and all the liquid absorbed. This is where you may need to muster all your patience and culinary judgement to make sure that the mixture is firm and not too wet but not underdone either. The answer is simply to taste the risotto as you go along, checking seasoning and adding any salt and pepper if required.

Once the risotto is cooked, stir in the parmesan and set aside to cool. You can leave this for a couple hours or even over night to help it dry out a little further. (If you want to have risotto on its own at this point, go grab yourself a plate and seize the moment – it would be a shame to let fresh risotto go to waste even if it is for a higher cause!)

To make the arancini, place the risotto mixture in a bowl with 2 of the eggs broken in and combine (this is to help the mixture stick together when placed in the hot oil). To make the balls themselves take a small amount in your hand and flatten it out, placing a cube of mozzarella in the centre. Compress the rice around the mozzarella to form as close to a sphere as you can get – you may need a little more rice to help complete the shape of the arancini. Repeat till you have used up all the rice.

Place the arancini on a plate and cool for 15 minutes in the freezer. With 5 minutes remaining, pour the oil into a saucepan deep enough to cover the arancini and place on a high heat. At this point you should also whisk the two remaining eggs in a bowl. You will also need to have the breadcrumbs ready in a bowl. When you remove the arancini, dip in the eggs followed by the breadcrumbs and plop straight into the now hot oil (you will probably have to do this in batches – we did ours only 5 at a time). Deep fry for 5 minutes before removing and placing on some kitchen towel to catch any excess oil. Serve immediately or as soon as they are cool enough to shovel them into your watering mouths.