Saturday, June 22, 2013

L'Arancine Vegane - A Sicilian Classic, vegan-style

Arancine (NOT ARANCINI) are a staple of Sicilian cuisine, originating from the Middle-Eastern rule of Sicily in the Middle Ages. Sicilian architecture, language, and cuisine bear many marks of this ancient Arab influence, which sets the tiny island apart from rest of Italy and further enriches its unique heritage. The word Arancine reflects that these cripsy rice balls resemble l'arance, or oranges.

Arancine are rather simple to make and can be filled with just about anything. The classic filling is a ragu, or meat sauce, with peas and onions. My favorite Sicilian pizzeria in Rome, Mondo Arancina, features a wide variety of arancine stuffed with everything from tomato and basil, to mushrooms, to béchamel, eggplant, and so on. After being prodded by a number of my vegan Roman friends, they even started to make a vegan variety filled with different minced veggies! Che buoooonnnaaa!!

During Hurricane Sandy, Ketch and I were stuck home with little else to do beside read, play games, and charge all of our electronics just in case the power went out. There was definitely nervousness and panic in the air as we heard more and more about places nearby being devastated and demolished. What does an Italian do in a time of crisis? Cook, of course!! Making these kept us busy for an afternoon and full for days to come. 


2 cups Arborio rice
2 cartons Organic Vegetable broth (or homemade if you're feeling really motivated)
3 table spoons extra virgin first press Olive Oil
Sea Salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 pinches of saffron threads (Trader Joe's carries less-expensive saffron threads in cute little jars!)
1/4 onion, minced (or more if you're really into onions)

In a sauce pot or high-walled cast-iron skillet, sautee the minced onion and olive oil for a few minutes on med-low heat, until onion is translucent. Add the arborio and stir constantly to ensure all grains are coated with oil. Continue to stir until grains become a bit translucent (2-5 minutes). Then add a bit of the broth, slowly, just enough to cover the grains. Add saffron threads. Continue to stir and lower the heat to a low low low simmer. Add the rest of the broth and stir occasionally to ensure the rice doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pot. The rice should be al dente and sticking together when done, usually after 10-20 minutes. If you're into vegan cheeses - feel free to add a handful of Daiya mozzarella, a few tablespoons of Toffutti cream cheese, Earth Balance butter, etc. 

Once the rice is done, cool in the fridge. To cool faster, spread it on a well oiled baking sheet. 

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup peas 
1/2 cup carrots
Oregano to taste
Basil to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup faux meat crumbles or brown lentils (if using lentils, cook beforehand)
Optional : Daiya mozzarella OR 1/2 cup tomato sauce

It's kind of tough for me to figure out the proportions for everything, because I always just cook with my gut, or what I have available. I don't really use recipes or know exact quantities. So this could vary... Basically, you want to sautee enough of the filling ingredients to fill all the arancine your cooked arborio will make, on low-medium heat for at least 10 minutes. We originally used faux meat crumbles, but of course they are processed and not so natural. Now, we cook brown lentils beforehand and use those as a meat substitute. The tomato sauce is nice, and means the filling won't get dry. But I'm not always into having tomato as the overpowering flavor in everything I eat. 

Once sautéed, cool the filling for around 15 minutes. 

To assemble the arancine,get ready to use your (just washed) hands. Grab a blob of rice and press into your palm, leaving the edges curved up. Add a spoonful or two of the filling, then more rice to cover it. Roll in your hands to create a nice round shape. (In Palermo, where my Nonna is from, they make Arancine round. In Catania, where my Nonno is from, they make them round on the bottom but conical on top. I prefer the Palermitano version.) 

Once all your balls are assembled, set out a bowl of olive oil and a bowl of breadcrumbs (gluten free ones work well). Add a generous amount of sea salt to your bcrumbs, and get going with dipping each ball in oil (heehee) and then coating extremely thoroughly with the breadcrumbs. It's very important there's a solid layer of bcrumbs around each of the arancine.

Heat a skillet on medium heat filled with at least an inch of organic vegetable oil or peanut oil (canola oil is almost always GMO'ed, and GMOs are poison). You'll know the oil is hot enough (usually around 5 min) if you splash a droplet of water on the oil and it spits/sizzles/dances. 

Drop in 2-3 arancine at a time and fry until golden. Flip over to ensue both sides get crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and place on a platter lined with at least 2 layers of paper towels to drain excess oil. We also tried baking a few at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, but of course the fried ones were way more delicious and true to tradition. 

Keep frying and draining, and then enjoy while still warm! You can dip them in marinara sauce or just munch em as is. The crispy breaded shell gives way to creamy saffron rice and scrumptious savory filling.... Mmmm!! Buon apetito!!


  1. Looks delicious. My bf can't eat grains but looooves Italian food, so I'll adapt the spicing to a lentil or riced cauliflower dish. Mmmm.

  2. I think riced cauliflower could work well, but you'd need to use something to make it stick together in a ball. The Arborio rice gets sticky naturally when cooked. If you figure it out, let me know! You could do a guest post on the blog with your recipe.

  3. I'll let you know if I come up with anything!