Arancini in Sicily

Warm golden brown balls of rice stuffed with spiced meat line the glass display case in the tiny, white tiled storefront behind a fish stand in Palermo’s outdoor Capo market. The shop, not even 8 feet wide, is camouflaged by a giant, glistening swordfish lying next to an enormous pile of fresh sardines. Mackerel, cod, cuttlefish, and squid fill in the rest of the fishmonger’s display. Spaced evenly apart, some of these shiny sea creatures, fresh from the ocean, stand on their tails as if ready to jump back into the deep blue Mediterranean.

Fish Stall--Capo Market--Palermo, Sicily

This lush display of marine life, some of which I’ve never seen before, distracts me from the small, dreary shop, which is my ultimate destination. Soon enough, though, I’m maneuvering around the icy table and heading straight for the open door. The place is packed with market goers ordering their preferred snack of the day: arancini or fried Sicilian rice balls.

Marco, a local cooking teacher, (see, Flirting with Sicily article for more details) orders two arancini as we pull out bar stools from beneath the long, narrow counter. Warm and crisp, with saffron flavored rice exposed after the first bite, the arancini are a satisfying treat on a cold, grey winter day. A second bite reveals the spiced ground beef at the center, as I devour one of Sicily’s most beloved street foods. I am hooked, only after one, and contemplate devoting the rest of my trip to finding the best fried rice balls in town. A task, which I look forward to.

Spiced Meat filled Arancini

Arancini were created in the 10th century during Arab rule when the cuisine was just starting to take its form. The name is derived from the Italian word for orange (arancia), since they similar in color and texture.

Palermo is full of arancini stands and I visit many of them, before picking a favorite– the Spinatto Caffé, which is not exactly a stand. In business since 1860, Spinnato is the city’s most famous sidewalk café. Even in the dead of winter, their signature blue umbrellas and tables fill the bustling downtown pedestrian zone. A few hearty souls huddle around their food outside, however, I choose an indoor table in their elegant dining room. Spinnato is famous for their traditional Sicilian sweets: cannoli, cassata, marzipan and biscotti, but I’m here for the arancini. (Ok, maybe a little dessert will follow). I try the spinach and cheese variation with its creamy filling—the perfect accompaniment to the saffron rice. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve just eaten the best arancini in town. The search is now over and I can finally move on to marzipan.

For those of you who would like to try arancini, here’s a link to Giada DeLauentis’ recipe:

Add a little cooked spinach to the filling and you’ll be able to duplicate the arancini from Spinatto Caffé.

Buon Appetito!

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