Sicily is the Queen of the Mediterranean sea: she is there, in her all glory, kissed by the waves and hugged by the sunshine. She is majestic, with her natural gifts like Mount Etna or the Aolian islands – and like the most beautiful women, her history makes her even more charming: the Valley of the Temples, the Necropolis, Val di Noto – they are all there to remind us that our history is what makes us beautiful.
The icing on this already phenomenal cake, is the food. Food in Sicily is just a whole different matter, from the sharpness of the caponata to the sweetness of the cassata, you can never get bored with the flavours. Amongst all these tremendous dishes, I do have a soft spot for what I consider an institution of the Sicilan gastronomy: Arancin*.
The reason why I am putting an * rather than O or A, lies in one of the oldest feuds that never died out in Italy: is it called Arancino or Arancina? Even Sicily is divided on this matter: for the Western part of the island it is “arancina”, while Eastern Sicily and the Northern Italy calls it “arancino”.
Western Sicily claims that the correct name is arancina, as the shape of it is similar to an orange (in Italian “arancia”). However, in Sicilian dialect the name for orange is aranciu (which is male), therefore the name arancino seems a more appropriate translation from the dialect.
The Accademia della Crusca, the society of scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, in theory settled the argument and “officially” arancina is the word closer to the Italian language, while arancino is closer to dialect, but they can both be used.
In this endless fight, where both sides have very convicing arguments and historical references to support their theories, I sit amongst the purest and wisest intellectuals: in a chair, with a rice ball in each hand.
Another tricky topic is the history behind arancin*: obviously every Sicilian city claims they invented it. The most likely origin, dates back to the Arab domination, when it was common to eat rice with herbs and meat. The lovely coating we all know today came only in the 1200s, during the reign of Federico II di Svevia, who needed to bring something to eat with him that was easy to carry.
It is also believed that originally arancin* were sweet snacks, invented to commemorate the arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine that was affectig the island, and that the savoury filling we all know today was only inroduced in the 1800s, when tomatoes started to be grown in Sicily.
There are several variations of Arancin*: with ragù, butter, pistachio, aubergines, courgette flowers, etc… and they are all scrumptious as you can imagine!
I will post the recipe for the Arancin* al ragù, the most traditional version of this fantastic street food in the next few days – stay tuned!!