Food & dining

‘Little oranges’ a Sicilian specialty since the 10th century

Cross-section of an arancino with peas and other fillings.

Claudia Catalano for The Boston Globe

Cross-section of an arancino with peas and other fillings.

With something from every food group, an arancino (arancini is the plural) is a small meal that fits in the palm of your hand. In the traditional Sicilian snack, a core of peas, mozzarella, and tomatoey meat ragu is encased in creamy saffron-scented risotto and crisp, amber-hued breadcrumbs. Regional variations on arancini (pronounced ahr-ahn-CHEE-nee) include conical rather than spherical shapes and fillings such as fish or eggplant.

The portable fried balls are nothing new. Arancini date to the 10th century when Sicily was under Arab rule. The conquerors were the first to cultivate rice on the island and would feast on platters of the seasoned grain, forming balls with their hands. They are named for their resemblance to oranges (in Italian, “arancia” means orange — fruit that was also introduced by the Arabs; saffron came from them too). A couple centuries later, a breadcrumb crust turned arancini into the iconic street fare still found in bars and food carts across the island.

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If you don’t have hours to spend stirring, shaping, stuffing, and frying arancini, you can nosh on classic and newfangled renditions of the “little oranges” in many restaurants.

Claudia Catalano

62 Restaurant & Wine Bar

62 Wharf St., Salem, 978-744-0062, www.62restaurant.com

Parmesan and butter take center stage in the golf-ball-size appetizers served with tomato confit.

Coppa

253 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, 617-391-0902, www.coppaboston.com

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Risotto made with Parmesan stock is stuffed only with Fontina cheese and fried to order.

Galleria Umberto

289 Hanover St., North End, Boston, 617-227-5709

True to tradition, these are the size of tennis balls and filled with meat, cheese, and peas.

Il Casale

50 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-209-4942, www.ilcasalebelmont.com

This updated version pairs porcini mushrooms with scamorza, an aged mozzarella.

Posto

187 Elm St., Somerville, 617-625-0600, www.postoboston.com

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Spinach and mushroom risotto is breaded, fried, and served with a spicy sweet and sour tomato sauce.

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