Arancini have definitively conquered the U.K. The word that describes the fried rice balls typical of Sicilian cuisine has just entered the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary, or the ‘bible’ of the English language.
Part of the 2019 revision, which has seen the addition of 650 words to the dictionary published by Oxford University Press, arancini are defined as “rice balls” with “a savoury filling, covered with breadcrumbs and fried;” the entry explains that they are “typically served as antipasto or snack.”
Arancini hail from Catania, and are popular in eastern Sicily in their cone shape, possibly inspired by Mount Etna; but there is also a feminine word that describes them, arancine, which refers to the round rice balls commonly found in Palermo and western Sicily. Because the Oxford dictionary has chosen ‘arancini,’ the eastern Sicily arancini faction is rejoicing, claiming that proves they invented the arancini.
The origin of arancini isn’t exactly known, but, as for all rice-based dishes in southern Italy, it is to be placed during the Arab domination, between the 9th and the 11th century. The Arabs in fact had the habit of rolling a little saffron rice into the palm of their hand, and then seasoning it with lamb.
However, recipes for arancini appeared quite late in cookbooks, in the 19th century, so that some doubt a real connection with Arab cuisine.
The most common fillings for arancini include ragù meat sauce and tomato sauce, provola cheese and peas, mozzarella and prosciutto (ham), ‘norma-style’ (with eggplants), although lately there are many more creative variations to cater to a variety of preferences, such as with swordfish, or pistachio, as well as many vegetarian options.