A Classic Sicilian Snack

Magda Gagliano's Pistachio & Peas Arancini


Having just returned from a trip to Sicily, I wanted to recreate the flavors and tastes that I had the pleasure of experiencing there. Although our produce differs from the Sicilian crops that grow in lava-rich soil, and we may have to find substitutes for seafood found only in the Mediterranean, the attitude towards cooking is something we can recreate here. At its core, that attitude is simply to maintain food at its purest, so that tomatoes taste of the earth and fish taste of the sea.

The following antipasto recipe is for arancini, which literally means "little oranges." Arancini are fried rice balls stuffed with meat ragu or, my favorite, pistachios and peas. They can be as large as oranges or as small as apricots, round or teardrop-shaped. Every Sicilian cafe serves arancini, and each one has its own version.

Traditionally, they are coated in breadcrumbs, but my version uses panko, as I prefer the crunchy texture.  So fry up a batch and enjoy them with an aperitivo; close your eyes and imagine sitting in the middle of a piazza overlooking a beautiful Baroque cathedral while inhaling the sea-scented air. Buon appetito!
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Make this classic Sicilian snack at home.

Pistachio & Peas Arancini



2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups chicken stock, warmed
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced into ½ inch cubes
1/4 cup finely chopped salted pistachios
2 tablespoons peas, (if frozen, then thawed; if fresh, then blanched)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Vegetable oil, for frying


In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 7 minutes. Add the rice and stir until well coated with butter. Add the white wine and saffron, season with salt and black pepper and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed, 2 minutes. Add the warm chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until it is absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, 25 minutes total. Stir in the grated cheese, transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan. Add the 1/2 tablespoon of flour and whisk constantly over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and cook, whisking, until thickened. Season with the nutmeg, salt and black pepper and transfer to a bowl to cool completely. Stir in the mozzarella, pistachios and peas.

Line a large baking sheet with wax paper. Put the eggs, panko and flour for dusting in 3 shallow bowls. Using lightly moistened hands, shape the rice mixture into 16 equal balls. Working with one ball at a time, make an indentation in the center with your finger and press the sides to make the hollow larger. Spoon a scant tablespoon of the pistachio filling into the hollow and press the risotto around the filling to enclose it. Transfer the ball to the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto and filling. Dust the arancini with flour, tapping off the excess. Coat them with the egg and roll in the panko.

In a large, deep skillet/fryer, heat vegetable oil to 350°. Fry the arancini over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until golden and heated through, approximately 6 minutes. Drain the arancini on paper towels and serve.  Arancini can be made 1 day in advance and reheated in 350° for 10 minutes.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: thyme4ma
    304193 5

    I had some recently at a party. Theirs were made with risotto. Yum.

    Jul 23, 2010 at 1:05 PM

  • Snooth User: marbedda
    538788 1

    ok... i am sicilian and this is sacrilege. they are perfect as they are.

    - no mozzarella.

    - aperitivo is pre-dinner drink/food. these are primi, or just a snack.

    - we just use rice with butter, egg and pecorino romano cheese. arborio cooked risotto-style is too starchy and the consistency of the arancini would be terrible.

    - panko???? D:

    - i dont think i have ever tasted pistachios and peas filling. it's more traditional to use currants, pignoli, tomatoes, and meat.

    - teardrop-shaped ones are a roman dish called suppli with saucy rice fried. i have never seen arancini shaped like that.

    Jul 23, 2010 at 5:53 PM

  • Innovate, be creative and don't just stagnate on one taste and shape traditions...Those arancini shared here are simply a mouthful of paradise.
    Grazie moltissimo, amica Magda!

    Jul 23, 2010 at 9:09 PM

  • I'm Roman and have spent quite some time in Sicily and I must say that I have seen arancini shapes exactly the way this article described. Just recently in June, I enjoyed some tear shaped arancini in ortygia with an aperol spritz, an aperitivo in my book.

    As for your pistachio comment, I think they are a nice touch. I think everyone knows of Bronte pistachios, no? Very Sicilian.

    Regarding your suppli comment, yes they do have mozzarella but they are never tear shaped - this coming from a Roman.

    Bottom line, this is a nice interpretation and I think the author of this article was quite clear in stating that this is her version.

    My suggestion is you try before you criticize. I know I will.

    Grazie mille, Magda!

    Jul 24, 2010 at 2:30 PM

  • Snooth User: Eric Guido
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    92549 196,454

    Thanks for sharing this recipe with us. I have this dish on the roster as I've been working my way through Sicily. Very happy to see another interpretation. I'll be sure to give it a try.


    Jul 25, 2010 at 10:11 AM

  • Yum, sounds different. Washed down by a nice glass of Grillo or Inzolia no doubt! Spotlight on Sicilian wines here: http://www.winewriting.com/WineWrit...

    Jul 30, 2010 at 4:32 AM

  • Snooth User: Honeybells
    214185 94

    These sound absolutely divine!!! I MUST try these! :) And I totally agree with PhoenixWillRise... no matter where you are in the world or what culture you come from, different familes, cities, towns, suburbs, restaurants, etc. have their own variation of making things, so stay open minded Marbedda my friend. As I always say, "You can't knock it til' you try it!". Looking forward to this and thank you so much for sharing!

    Aug 13, 2010 at 5:10 PM

  • Snooth User: 130chris
    534931 1

    Marbedda I'm with you !!!! while this recipe may be something to try it's nothing like what my mom in law taught me to make. and NEVER with arborio rice. She was from Catania and was an amazing cook :) There IS a lot to be said for both tradition as well as creating your own take on tradition, so I say add great wine, great friends & Mangia.

    Aug 14, 2010 at 7:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Vaizki
    557042 1

    I don't care what the original recipe is or was, my wife made these and adapted to what was in season and in the fridge - best stuff on earth. Yes there was mozzarella, arborio rice and other sacrilege.. But who cares? The best pizza is The one you like, not the one made to a specific recipe. Conforming to a single recipe and defined outcome... That's mcdonald's for you ;)

    Aug 16, 2010 at 3:13 PM

  • I had my first in Sorrento, Italy where they were amazing! Then a friend in Praiano was making these as a fast food italian treat. I studied how he made them and learned how to make them when I returned to the U.S. However I added a little cinnamon and sugar to the breadcrumbs, heated the frying pan and cooked them in olive oil. Then I drizzled balsamic reduction over for a nice presentation. Everybody loved them!!

    Oct 15, 2010 at 7:42 PM

  • Snooth User: puglv
    110159 37

    Your recipe sounds like something I will try. This caught my eye as there is a restaurant in Rochester NY that serves arancini --they drizzle a bit of red sauce on theirs. I had never had them before although I grew up with a lot of great italian cooking as my grandmother lived next door. She was a superb cook and came from the Naples area.

    Each area has it's language and food 'dialect'-- why not mix it up bit?

    Mangia bene, vivi felice

    Oct 16, 2010 at 8:47 AM

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