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SICILIAN ARANCINI RICE BALLS

 The "Little Orange" Antipasto

Arancini are said to have originated in 10th-century Sicily. The word arancini means "little orange", their final shape and colour reminiscent of an orange. They are snacks that come in many versions but most popular is one where a ball of rice is filled with a meat sauce with green peas, a bit of mozzarella cheese, coated in bread crumbs then deep fried. They're a lot of fun to make with family gathered round. A wonderful antipasto!

INGREDIENTS:

MEAT SAUCE (RAGU):
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Basil olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 carrot, peeled, diced
1/2 cup celery, trimmed and diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 lb ground beef/pork blend (beef only is okay)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp concentrated tomato paste (Mutti brand or the like is recommended)
1/4 cup Sherry Reserva red wine vinegar 
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup water

RICE: 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
2 cups arborio rice (the type used for risotto) 
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
2 tbsp meat mixture (cooked)
 
ASSEMBLY & FRYING: 
2 to 3 cups mild extra virgin olive oil (canola can be substituted)
2 large eggs
2 cups fine breadcrumbs or Panko
1 cup fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed in 1/2-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS:

RAGU: 
On medium-high heat place olive oil in small to medium saute pan. Add onions and cook for a couple of minutes, to soften. Add meat and break into small pieces, cooking until lightly browned. Add carrots and celery. Cook for 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper, then blend. Add frozen peas, stir, then sprinkle flour evenly over mixture, stir until combined. Add vinegar and water. Cook until liquid is completely absorbed. Place in a bowl to cool.

RICE: 
In medium/large saucepan, add olive oil, then onions. Cooke for 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Add rice, stir once then add meat mixture and cook until water is completely absorbed about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer rice mixture to rimmed baking sheet, to cool completely.

ASSEMBLY & COOKING: 
In a small bowl, whisk eggs until blended. In a separate low-rise bowl, place breadcrumbs. Place rice, meat sauce, mozzarella egg mixture and breadcrumbs on counter or table. Take a large handful of rice mixture and form into round ball, roughly the size of a medium-sized orange. Using your thumb, create a bowl-pocket in a dish shape. Fill halfway with meat mixture, then top with 3 to 4 mozzarella cubes. Add another small handful of rice to close pocket, then gently start rolling the rice ball to evenly cover the pocket and all sides. Place on a plate, and continue to assemble remaining balls. In a deep sauce pan on medium to medium-high heat place oil (about 4-inches to cover rice ball). Heat to 350 degrees (not too hot, and definitely not smoking). Gently place 1 to 2 rice balls in the oil. Roll with slotted spoon and fry evenly until golden brown, careful not to fry too long. Place on paper towel. Continue frying all rice balls. Serve immediately.