I think it’s literally been about four years since I told my Aunt Ro that I wanted to learn how to make her famous rice balls. And as a 2012 Eating Resolution I finally made it happen! Rice balls, like pretty much everything in Italian food culture are made differently according to region. The main difference is the stuffing. In Italian, rice balls are called ‘arancini’ which translates to little orange, and no matter the variations on stuffing, all rice balls have the crispy golden fried exterior that makes it look like a little orange.
True to traditional family secrets, there was no recipe. So my senses were on high alert as I tasted the boiling salt water, felt the density of the rice as it cooked, watched as it cooled and checked for the gummy texture. Aunt Ro makes a classic Sicilian rice ball with a stuffing that includes, ground meat, chopped onions, tomato paste, peas, grated Pecorino cheese, and ground pepper. The stuffing was the easy part, checking for seasoning as we added the cheese. We waited for the rice to cool completely by laying it out in sheet trays. And finally, the time had come! Time to make the balls!
Here is a video of Aunt Ro explaining the technique:
Once the balls were done, we dipped them in egg, with a little bit of milk and seasoned breadcrumbs. And then into the frier! We used a combination of olive oil and vegetable oil. Aunt Ro said you know the oil is hot enough when you throw a little rice scrap into the pot, it sinks to the bottom, does a little dance, and then floats up to the top. We fried them until they were a nice deep golden brown and rotated them once just so the bottom didn’t burn.
The taste of a freshly fried rice ball is like no other experience! I’m used to eating them re-heated and they don’t have that crispy crunchy exterior like a fresh one. Quite a food nirvana moment for me!
I think the best part of the day, aside from the glorious moment of tasting a fresh rice ball was spending a day with Aunt Ro! She is true Brooklyn (if you couldn’t tell from her accent that video) and is a real ‘say it how it is’ kinda woman. She’s pretty badass. In fact she took me to get my first tattoo! And I was so happy I made her proud with my rice- balling skills, I was a natural!