If I could spend Easter anywhere in the world, I would choose Sicily.
Sicily is just like the rest of Italy, only more so. I've always thought of it as Italy reduced, in the culinary sense of the word. You put the entire country in a big pot, set it over high heat and let it boil down and thicken: That's Sicily.
Everything seems more intense in Sicily. The sun shines — and burns — brighter, and when there's a storm, the rain comes down with a staggering intensity. I was caught in such a storm one afternoon as I walked through the narrow, winding streets of Ragusa Ilba trying to find my way back to my hotel. One minute there was no rain; the next minute I was drenched to the bone.
Wines are concentrated, cheeses all but explode with flavors, the scent of citrus fills the air of many villages, and the sausages — oh my, the sausages.
Everything seems more delicious in Sicily.
And then there's the religious aspect. Catholic statues and icons are everywhere, in special little recesses on the outsides of apartment buildings, on the tables of street vendors, in wineries, in stores and specialty shops.
During the high religious holidays, the entire island seems to celebrate. The most glorious celebration of all seems to be Easter, when word of the resurrection of Christ is portrayed with great drama.
Mary Taylor Simeti, an American from New York who married a Sicilian man and moved to a farm not far from Palermo several decades ago, tells the story of one of these re-enactments in her memoir "On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal" (Knopf, 1986).
It takes place in a seaside hill town. As Simeti and her husband, Tonino, walk towards the town square where the ritual will unfold, a young man with a full-size sheet pan held above his head runs past them toward a bar where the arancine he is carrying will soon be served. The Simetis follow him and soon are biting into succulent balls of creamy risotto.
"Arancine" means "little orange," a name that captures the appearance of these deep-fried risotto balls, which turn a deep golden brown when they are cooked. In other parts of Italy, risotto balls are called "suppli," but I prefer the evocative Sicilian moniker.
The most traditional arancine may be the ones filled with peas and ground beef or veal in a thick tomato sauce. A filling of diced mozzarella and prosciutto also is traditional. After making these versions enough times to feel comfortable with the technique, I've experimented with my own combination of flavors, based on what is readily at hand here at home.
For variations on this basic recipe, visit "Eat This Now" at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where you'll find mushroom arancine, spring garlic arancine and a couple of delicious surprises. You'll also find some of my favorite Easter recipes, including my traditional leg of lamb in mustard glaze, at "Eat This Now."
Although arancine are not difficult to make, I don't recommend this recipe for beginning cooks. If you are not relaxed and comfortable in the kitchen, this recipe could seem overwhelming.
Makes 6 to 8 servings as an appetizer