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Street Food in Palermo is one of the city's proudest traditions. Exploring the buzzing markets such as Ballarò and Vuccerìa, you'll find countless stalls of vendors serving up simple, delicious, and sometimes unusual treats. Today we'll learn to make Arancine and Panelle, fried delights that are surprisingly easy to make yourself! 

From sfinciuni, the deep onion-topped pizza, to ancient fare such as stigghiola (grilled intestine skewers) and pani 'ca meusa (spleen and ricotta sandwiches). Every day, you'll encounter vibrant specialities that are proudly sold by dedicated locals. 

If you can't get on to a plane to Palermo right now, try making some street food at home. It's the next best thing. 

What are arancine and panelle?

The name “arancina” literally means ‘little orange’. Arancia is the Italian for “orange”, and “-ina” means small. Just one look at the shape, colour and texture explains everything! However, in many places outside Palermo, it has somehow chanced to “arancino” over time.

There are two traditional types of arancina: one is ‘con carne’ (with meat sauce) and the other is ‘al burro’ (with butter), but it is possible to find a whole range of other less conventional stuffings available when travelling around Sicily.

Both recipes are very popular all year round, but especially on Santa Lucia, December 13th. This is a special feast day in which Sicilians (particularly in Palermo and Syracuse) do not eat flour-based foods. You can read about Santa Lucia traditions here

As you’ll see from the recipe, the arancina ‘al burro’ isn’t actually made with butter, but instead has a centre filled with ham and cheese. That’s just the name! So, flour-free but covered in breadcrumbs… “al burro”, but actually ham and cheese… The important thing is that they’re delicious.

Panelle are harder to find outside Palermo, but are at the very heart of the city's street food. These crispy, moreish fritters are usually served in a panino, soft bread filled with panelle, a squeeze of lemon and a crack of black pepper. Fast, delicous and easy to make, everyone loves panelle!

Arancine Recipe

For the rice

1kg Arborio rice
2.5 litres vegetable stock
10g salt
Pepper to taste
100g butter
2 sachets saffron

For the filling

1 litre milk
150g flour
150g butter
10g salt

For batter and frying

Breadcrumbs as needed
150ml water
100g flour
Peanut, sunflower or vegetable oil, as needed

How to make arancine

Making the Rice 

  1. Cook the rice the day before for best results. It will be easier to shape!
  2. In a large pan, heat 2.5 litres of stock with saffron, salt and pepper. Once boiling, add the rice and turn down the heat, and put a lid on the pan. Leave the rice to cook until it has absorbed all the water - don’t take off the lid and stir it. You need to keep the steam inside to cook the rice properly. 
  3. Once the rice is ready, give it a stir. It should be thick and creamy: not runny, but not dry. Pour the rice into a wide, shallow dish or tray and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Making the Filling 

The sauce for arancine al burro is a more ‘compact’ version of the usual béchamel that you'll find in dishes such as lasagne.  

  1. In a small pan, melt the butter and mix with the flour little by little. When you’ve made a smooth paste (roux), begin adding the milk gradually, mixing constantly to avoid lumps. Add the salt and continue mixing until you have achieved a smooth, thick sauce. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. This is your besciamella. 
  2. When the besciamella has cooled, add the finely chopped mozzarella and ham and mix together. Your filling is ready: cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a little while. 

Making the Arancine  

  1. It’s time to make the arancine! Set out the ingredients in advance to help your process. Your besciamella filling, the tray of rice, and large squares of cling film (about the size of a dinner plate). It’s good to have an assistant cook to help you with this part.  
  2. Take a fistful of rice and press it lightly into a ball shape. With your thumb, press a concave into the ball and add half a tablespoon or so of the filling. (It depends on the size of your ball, use your judgement!) Add a little more rice on top and press more firmly until compact. It’s a bit like making a snowball!
  3. Now, have a square of cling film ready on the table. Place the rice ball on top, and then take all four corners and join them, and twist the cling film until it is tightly wrapped around the rice ball. Set to one side, and repeat this process until you have finished the rice.  
  4. Leave your arancine in their cling film packages for a quarter of an hour or so, to ensure they are compact. The cling film will help them to mould to their shape. This will help ensure they don't fall apart when fried! 
  5. While the arancine are resting, beat together a simple batter using 100g flour with about 150ml water using a whisk. You can use egg yolks instead of water if you prefer. 

Frying your Arancine  

  1. Now, it’s time to bread the arancine. Dip them in the batter, and then roll them in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to ensure they stick. 
  2. Fill a pan with enough oil to completely submerge an arancina. This will be quite a lot of oil, so be prepared. Heat the oil to 170°C/340°F. Now, using a skimmer, carefully place the arancine into the boiling oil. You can probably cook two at the same time, depending on the size of your pan.  
  3. Be very careful not to knock the oil pan or splash yourself, as boiling oil is very dangerous! Keep small children out of the kitchen. 
  4. When the arancine are golden and crispy, transfer to a plate covered in kitchen roll. They’ll be ready to eat once they’ve cooled down a little! 

Panelle Recipe

Ingredients

500g chickpea flour
1.5 litres water
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Parsley, finely chopped
Vegetable, peanut or sunflower oil for frying

How to make panelle

1. In a large pan, stir the chickpea flour into the cold water until combined.

2. Add salt and pepper and beat with a whisk until smooth. 

3. Heat the mixture over a low-medium heat, until the mixture solidifies and no longer sticks to the sides of the pan. Be careful not to let it burn! While the mixture is cooking, finely chop a handful of parsley and stir it in.

5. When the mixture is ready, remove from the heat. Then, pour it directly onto a sheet of baking parchment, and cover completely with a second sheet.

6. Now, with a rolling pin, roll the mixture out between the sheets of baking parchment. When it is about 1⁄4 inch thick, put it into 2 inch squares. 

7. Heat a pan of oil to about 170°C/340°F. Make sure it is a pan with enough room for several panelle. Carefully lower the panelle squares into the oil and fry until golden a couple at a time. Once golden and crispy, remove the panelle from the oil and leave to rest on a plate lined with kitchen roll. 

8. Serve when piping hot, with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. 

Panelle are best enjoyed in a soft sandwich bun known as 'malafada', which are topped with sesame seeds. They are also a typical part of the Palermitan 'rosticceria', which are trays of fast food including potato 'crocchè', arancine, calzoni, pizzette, rollò... and many more. 

If you go to Palermo, you can't miss these delicious treats! 

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