Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feast of Saint Lucy & Arancini di Siciliani (Sicilian Rice Balls)

In many Catholic Italian families, tradition tells us that December 13th is the Feast of Saint Lucy. (Santa Lucia) Saint Lucy was born in the year 283 of nobility and wealth in Syracuse, (Sicily) Italy. She was a young girl who vowed to live a chaste life because of her love and devotion to Christ. Her mother arranged a marriage for her to a pagan suitor. Lucy’s suitor, had other plans, and revealed Lucy as a Christian. The authorities went to arrest her and planned on forcing her into prostitution. Because she did not surrender she was further tortured by having her eyes torn out. As the authorities tried burning her by fire, the flames would just diminish, and was killed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger in the year 304. The legend concludes that God restored her eyes.

St. Lucy is the patron saint of those with eye problems and blindness, plus is often depicted carrying her eyes on a plate. Her name, “Lucia,” means “Light,” and light plays a role in the customs of her feast day. In Italy, torchlight processions and bonfires mark her day. This tradition came about because in 1582 during a famine in Syracuse, Italy, the people prayed to St. Lucy to send them a ship that was filled with grain. Many Sicilians pay tribute to this miracle preformed by St. Lucy and in her honor they do not eat anything made with wheat flour, which means giving up pasta and bread. Instead they eat this popular dish called "cuccia" which is made with boiled whole wheat berries, ricotta, sugar, nuts or raisins. In Venice, the people celebrate the feast by enjoying fried cheese. Some Italians eat small cakes or biscotti shaped like eyes. In Lombardy and Veneto, another tradition is that goose is eaten on this day.

The Swedish have special traditions for the feast of St. Lucy as well. The oldest daughter of a family will wake up before dawn on St. Lucy’s Day and dress in a white gown for purity, often with a red sash as a sign of St. Lucy’s death. On her head she wears a crown of evergreens with four to nine candles that are lit. She is often accompanied by “star children,” her small brothers or sisters are dressed in white with cone-shaped hats that are decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wands. “St Lucy” and her “star children” will wake up the rest of her family. She then serves them coffee, and a traditional pastry called Lussekatter. (saffron buns or as they are sometimes called Lucy Cats, made in the “S” shape, like a cat with raisins or currants that are made to look like eyes)

When I was younger, I do not remember really celebrating the traditions of St. Lucy. I do know that my parents told us that St. Lucy was the patron saint of the eyes and to say a prayer to her for our good fortune to have eyesight. My grandmother Nanni, (my father’s mother) was from Sicily and she would stay true to the traditions of not eating any bread or pasta on that day. She would make these tasteful little balls made of rice called "Arancini di Siciliani" or "Rice Balls." My Nanni never wrote any of her recipes down, and that is sad for me, but she would always add a little of this or that. I do remember eating her Arancini and they were heavenly. One of my favorite Italian cooks is Mary Ann Esposito, of “Ciao Italia.” Her recipe is the closest to my Nanni’s recipe that I can find. So I hope that you try this mouthwatering dish and enjoy on St. Lucy’s Day.

Arancini di Siciliani
Sicilian Rice Balls

One cup of Arborio rice
3 Large eggs
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup of diced mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup diced prosciutto (about 2 oz.)
3 tablespoons of finely minced fresh parsley
2 cups of fresh bread crumbs
1 cup of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of homemade tomato sauce
Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying

In a saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add the rice and cook for 15 minutes. The rice should be quite firm. Drain and transfer to a bowl.

Lightly beat one of the eggs and add to the rice, along with the grated cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper. Mix well. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in another bowl, mix the mozzarella cheese and the prosciutto.

With floured hands, divide the mixture into 8 to 10 portions and roll each portion into a ball the size of a small orange. Poke a hole into the center of each ball with your finger and inset about 1 tablespoon of the mozzarella mixture. Reshape and smooth the balls to enclose the filling.

In a shallow dish beat the remaining 2 eggs. Spread the bread crumbs and the flour on separate plates. Dip the rice balls in the flour, egg, and the breadcrumbs to coat them evenly. Then refrigerate them for about 30 minutes.

In a deep fryer or a deep heavy pan, heat the oil to 375 ° F. Fry the rice balls until they are golden brown on all sides. Drain them on brown paper or paper towels and serve immediately, with fresh tomato sauce. As you eat them, you can see the mozzarella strings stretch out like telephone wires. So delicious and yummy.

Till Next Time…………..

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved


  1. Amazing! My Sicilian grandmother also made rice balls for Saint Lucy's day. They were our family's favorite treat and we still make them once a year. I looked everywhere to find a story about Saint Lucy loosing her eyes, that's the way my grandmother told the story. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Dear Deborah,

    Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope that you are enjoying the stories and recipes. Yes, the rice balls are amazing and a tradition that we always make for St. Lucy. Glad that you love them too. I am thrilled that I was able to bring back memories for you with the recipe and the story of St. Lucy.

    Please come back and enjoy many more Italian recipes and stories. At Christmas this year, (2013) I will be doing the "12 Days of Christmas Music." Everyday a Christmas song and with it a recipe to go along with that song.

    Have a wonderful day, and anytime my door is always open for friends to stop by!

    Dottie :)