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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

<i>— Simple Risotto (recipe follows)

3 pastured eggs

4 ounces prosciutto, cut into small dice

— Zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

— Pinch of salt

— Black pepper in a mill

8 ounces, approximately, bocconcini (small mozzarella balls)

3 cups fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted

— Peanut oil, grapeseed oil or olive oil, for deep frying</i>

Make the risotto at least 2 hours before you want to make the arancine; it can be made several hours or even a day in advance.

Put the cooled risotto into a mixing bowl.

Crack one of the eggs into a small bowl, beat it well, and tip it into the risotto; mix thoroughly.

Put the prosciutto, lemon zest and parsley into a bowl, add a pinch of salt and several turns of black pepper, and toss together thoroughly.

Drain the bocconcini and set in a small bowl.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Use a scoop — a No. 18 ice cream scoop is perfect — to gather up a ball of risotto and set it in the palm of your hand. Make an indentation in the center, add a bit of the prosciutto mixture, and press in a bocconcino. Fold your hands around the rice to make a round ball that completely covers the filling. Set on the baking sheet and continue until all have been made.

Crack the remaining eggs into a small but wide bowl and beat well.

Put the bread crumbs into a second bowl.

Dip a rice ball in the egg, turning it to coat it evenly, and then turn it in the bread crumbs until there is an even layer. Set the ball on the baking sheet, and continue until all have been similarly coated.

Refrigerate the balls for 15 to 20 minutes.

Pour about 3 inches of oil into a deep pot and set over medium heat until the oil reaches 365 to 370degrees.

Using a slotted spoon, lower the rice balls into the oil, one at a time, waiting a minute or so between each addition so that the oil returns to the proper temperature. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook until golden brown all over, turning the arancine now and then so that they cook evenly. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked arancine to absorbent paper to drain. Continue until all have been cooked.

Serve hot, with plenty of napkins alongside.


<b>Simple Risotto</b>

Makes 5 to 6 servings

<i>6 to 7 cups homemade chicken stock (see Note below)

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

2 shallots, minced

— Kosher salt

2 cups Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or arborio rice

3/4 cup (3 ounces) freshly grated Vella Dry Jack, Estero Gold or similar grating cheese

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley</i>

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium-size saucepan and keep it at a low simmer.

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring all the while, until the grains turn milky white, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add 1/3 cup of the simmering stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid has been nearly completely absorbed. Continue adding the broth, 1/3 cup at a time and stirring constantly over medium heat until it has all been absorbed, about 16 to 18 minutes in all. Add the cheese and the parsley, taste and correct for salt.

Set the risotto aside, covered, to cool for at least two hours; or cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Note: If you have a highly concentrated stock, use just 2 to 3 cups and thin with water.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. Email Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>

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