From Peasant to POSH

In a cable car going up Mt. Aetna in Sicily, I fell into conversation with a teen-aged boy and his mother who were  in on the island visiting family. The boy  had turned the trip into a quest for the perfect arrancini.

Arrancini are a clever way to stretch leftovers,  thought up by some Sicilian peasant ages ago. Rice is molded into a ball around leftovers, usually peas and a little mozzarella, sometimes with a dab of ragu or meat sauce . The whole is then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They’re sold at food carts all over Sicily, usually  accompanied by a tiny, waxy napkin and that’s about it. I asked the boy where he had found the  best arrancini.

He recommended those sold by a vendor in the square outside the Cathedral in Cefalu so, of course, we went there. As pictured, it’s beautiful but the day we went  it  was cold and windy, not ideal for sitting outdoors. On top of that, the famed Cathedral was closed for a three month renovation. Nevertheless, the arrancini were terrific.

Recently, my husband and I were guests at a  New York City restaurant celebrated for its fabulous Italian food and given a relatively high rating in Zagat. One of the appetizers on the menu was a plate of arrancini which we ordered and shared with our host and the other guests. They were so good that we ordered another round. These arrancini were elegant and pricey, served on fine china and accompanied by a well-seasoned tomato sauce. They were as good, and certainly eaten in a more comfortable setting,  than the ones we ate in Cefalu, but minus the drama.

No recipe dear readers as deep frying is something I leave to the pros. But if you go to Sicily or see them on a menu wherever you are, sample arrancini. If they are crisp, greaseless and you want more, you’re on the way.

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