The Trinacria (a three-legged figure) is the emblem of Sicily and I spotted it on a restaurant’s window in all places, in SOHO, Hong Kong. The bar and restaurant is called Posto Pubblico. Before spotting the Trinacria, I had no intention of going to an Italian (or Sicilian) restaurant in Hong Kong!
The strange thing was that this restaurant did not even know what or why they had a Trinacria on their window.
I enjoyed the food very much but most of all I enjoyed instructing the personable and affable waiter about Sicilian matters. The restaurant is classed as Italian and judging by the reviews on the net, no-one has made any association with Sicily, yet much of the food on the menu is Sicilian.
We ordered small plates from the menu… spuntini or tapas-style of Arancini, Rotolini- little roll ups of eggplants (also known as Involtini- see photo above), a marinated tuna dish and because the restaurant make their own mozzarella, a Caprese.
By the end of our meal the waiter knew quite a bit about Sicily and the food of Sicily, how Arancini are shaped and presented alone and not covered by ragù (which by the way was excellent), how it would be best not to flour or crumb the eggplant when making the eggplant involtini (in order to keep the flavours fresh and accentuate the delicate fresh-cheese taste in the stuffing) and most important of all what the emblem on their window represented. The waiter said that he would pass on the information about the trinacra to the staff and the culinary advice to their chef.
Is it arancini or arancine? You will see this word spelled both ways.The Italian word for orange is arancia (feminine) and the word for orange tree is arancio (masculine). Arancina is a small orange and arancine is the plural. It therefore may make more sense to call them arancine as many Sicilians do, however over time arancini seems to have become the most popular name for these rice balls especially in other parts of Italy and the world.
Arancini covered with ragù (not as Sicilians would serve them). This is a photo of the arancini we ate in the restaurant.
I solved the problem of why a Trinacria was on their window: It turned out that there were two original owners, one was from from New York City and the other from New Jersey.
Both had grandparents who had migrated to NY from Southern Italy – one lot from Naples (and that would explain the mozzarella) and one from Licata, that of course is in SICILY.
So all in all….. a very good time was had by all.
Homer referred to Sicily as Thrinakie (or Thrinakrie), which means Isle with a triangle’s shape. The name then changed to Trinakria, a reference to the three promontories on the island: Capo Peloro (Messina) in the north-east, Capo Boéo or Lilibéo (Marsala) and Capo Passero (an island 75 kilometres from Siracusa) or Capo Spartivento in the south-east. The name later became Trinacria, which the poet Dante Alighieri used to refer to Sicily in his Divine Comedy. It is also the name of the three-legged figure that is now the symbol of Sicily.
Below, Arancini shape in Sicily. The ragu is on the inside of the arancino.
My thoughts on Sicilian arancini- variations to the recipe below:
Arancini as made in Sicily are made with boiled rice (in plain salted water) and the rice is not cooked in stock and nor are they made with left over risotto. The saffron is added after the rice is boiled for colour and taste.
Some Sicilians add eggs to bind the rice, others insist that by cooking the rice by the absorption method in the correct amount of liquid and cooled overnight, the rice will be sticky enough not to require eggs.
In Sicily traditionally they are always stuffed with ragù (the meat-based sauce) and peas. In Rome, rice balls are called Suppli and they are ball shaped, made with risotto and have a cheese and often ham stuffing in the centre.
I prefer my arancini shaped as they are in eastern Sicily – they have a more conical shape rather than a ball…. like a small hill. As they are shaped in the palm of the hand , it is easy to see why they can be conical in shape.
I also like the idea of dipping each arancino into a batter before frying – this helps keep them together and gives a crunchy coating, which I like: Beat together 1 egg, some flour and enough water to make a thick batter. Dip each arancino into the batter, then into breadcrumbs.
Although some ragù (the meat-based sauce) sometimes contains pancetta as made in Bologna (and not the bacon used for breakfast), most Sicilians tend not to add it. Also Thyme is not very common in Sicily….oregano or basil is more likely to be used. Tomato paste rather than Passata is also common and if celery and carrot are used it must be chopped very finely.
The following recipe for arancini was printed in the TSAA Newsletter, May 2012 Edition (The Sicilian Association of Australia). Written by Sebastian Agricola.
Arancini, one of the signature foods of Sicily, are also a compact and delicious edible historical record of Sicily.
Few dishes can tell as much about the peoples who have contributed to Sicily over the centuries. The canestrato fresco (a fresh, mild, firm cheese that’s generally replaced with mozzarella off the Island) comes from the Greeks, the rice and saffron from the Arabs, the ragù from French, and the tomato sauce from the Spanish.(Pino Correnti; Il Libro d’Oro della Cucina e Dei Vini Della Sicilia).
Arancini originated in Sicily around the tenth century A.D (that about 1,000 years ago readers!) reportedly during the Kalbid rule, a Muslim dynasty that ruled Sicily from 948 to 1053. The Kalbids also introduced lemons, seville oranges, sugar cane, as well as cotton and mulberries.
The name is a variant of the Italian for orange (arancia) which describes both their shape and colour. There are various recipes for arancini in Sicily and every little paesetto (village) claims to produce the original recipe and the best arancini. The TSAA has its preferred recipe which was used in one of TSAA cooking classes and here it is:
1 Kilo Minced Veal
1 Kilo Minced Pork
2 Medium Onions, finely chopped
4 Celery Sticks, finely chopped
1 Litre Tomato Puree
2 Medium Carrots, finely chopped
1 Cup Dry White Wine
5 Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced 1 Cup of Water
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 tsp.
Salt and Pepper
*200gms Pancetta, diced (see my note above)
Cook the onions celery, carrots and garlic in oil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until softened; about 5 minutes.
Add the pancetta, veal and pork and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps until browned; about 6 minutes.
Stir in tomato puree, white wine and the thyme and gently simmer covered, until sauce is thickened; 3/4 to 1 hour.
Add salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow sauce to cool.
RICE FOR THE ARANCINI
500 gms Arborio rice
Several ladles of sauce to make the filling
100gms grated pecorino cheese
2 Eggs, lightly whisked
Add grated pecorino cheese to rice.
Add enough sauce to rice to make it turn orange in colour.
Add eggs to rice mixture and combine mixtur
Cook the rice (absorption method.) Allow rice to cool.
1/2 Fiore di latte mozzarella, cubed into small pieces
250gms Frozen Peas
1/2 Onion, chopped
Fine Breadcrumbs for Crumbing
Salt and Pepper
Sauté onion for 5 minutes, add peas and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste.
Form Arancini by first filling the palm of your hand with rice mixture, then adding a teaspoon of peas and Bolognese sauce and a cube of mozzarella.
Enclose filling with more rice by forming a ball with mixture contained inside. Roll balls in breadcrumbs and deep fry in vegetable oil until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.