Friday, December 12, 2014

"Sicilian Rice Balls" To Celebrate The Feast Of St.Lucy

In many Catholic Italian families, tradition tells us that this Saturday, 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 (often 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 performed 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 a 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 a young girl, 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. 

"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 © 2014 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved


  1. I grew up with St. Lucy bringing me presents as a child. I would put my shoes outside my room and in the morning, like father Christmas, I will find presents!
    I actually didn't know much about her story. My God, she went through a lot! So much suffering, that's why she was made a Saint!
    Thank you for sharing this, it was really interesting. I love arancini di riso. You can make them over and over again and never get bored with them. Have a really good weekend my friend :-)

    1. Dear Alida, Thanks for your comment and for visiting. What great memories you have Alida of your childhood on St Lucy's feast day. I agree with you, didn't really know much about her till I did my research. She was a true Saint from the beginning, and she went through so much pain and suffering. So glad that you found this post interesting, so did I. Dear friend, love Arancini di riso! They are so yummy and a tradition for sure. Thanks again, enjoy your weekend as well....Dottie :)

  2. Good evening Dottie ,
    What a wonderful post on 'St. Lucy' so full of information , hubby's aunt teaches the kids about St. Lucy and she loves tradition . She (Mae) enjoyed resding this post and said you did great on your reach .
    We love Rice balls and I will try yours very soon . Thanks so much for sharing and have a great warm and safe weekend . Nee ;-D

    1. Good evening Nee,
      Thanks for your wonderful comment and your visit, you are always welcome! Tell Mae that I am glad she enjoyed my post. It is hard to think about all the suffering that St. Lucy went through, but some people are Saints from the beginning. I agree Nee, Rice Balls are so yummy and not hard to make. You also with your family have a blessed weekend. It is cold here so I will try to keep warm dear friend..
      Dottie :)

  3. Hi Dottie!
    I know of the traditions surrounding St. Lucy's Day as I too had relatives that told us the story. I remember the S cookies too but I don't think we had them for St. Lucy's Day. I can't remember:) I do love Rice Balls though, I actually make them for my sister Maria whenever she comes. She LOVES them. The recipe you share is much the same. I learned from my Aunt Connie and she made some with Mozzarella and Prosciutto and the rest with peas which I think were cooked in red tomato sauce. Again, it was long ago so I'm not sure.

    Thank you so much for sharing, Dottie. I don;t mind saying I wish I had a rice ball right now!!!

    1. Dear Louise,
      I think most of us growing up in an Italian home, learned the story of St. Lucy. She really suffered so, but a positive note is that she became a Saint and that is what is important. The "S" cookies is a Swedish tradition for St. Lucy, but the Italian people make them as well. These traditional Neapolitan Christmas cookies are also S-shaped. They are called Sesamielli. The rice balls are so good. That is nice that you make them for your sister. I have made them with the peas and tomato sauce, but my family prefers the Mozzarella and the Prosciutto. Thank you for your comment dear friend, and your visiting. Have a blessed and fun weekend....
      Dottie :)

  4. Dear Dottie, I remember the feast of St. Lucy. I loved all the different feast days and the traditions of food.
    Rice balls are a favorite of mine. My mom made them with the peas and chop meat and sauce. I simply loved them.
    These look wonderful.
    Have a beautiful weekend. xoxo Catherine

    1. Dear Catherine,
      I agree dear friend, I love all the feast days and the traditions that go with them! It reminds me of when I was young and my mom would always talk about the Saints, as well as the traditions... I am glad that I was able to bring back a memory for you as well with your mom. I have made them with the peas as well, but as I was telling Louise, my family prefers the Mozzarella way the best. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and for visiting me. Hope that you and the kids have a blessed and glorious weekend as well!
      Dottie :)

  5. Dottie, I love your writing and stories. I can imagine your grandmother clinging to tradition and customs like mine did. St. Lucy is new to me and I enjoyed reading about her. I do know the Swedish pastry you mention though, as my MIL was Swedish and made all sorts of pastries. Your rice balls look delicious, I've never had one and would love to so this is a recipe to try. Thanks!

    1. Hi Pam, You are very sweet, thank you for visiting and your lovely comment. I am so glad that you are enjoying my stories and my recipes. Yes, we always had traditions and of course being Italian we were in the kitchen the most. You know that saying, "The Heart of the home is the Kitchen" St. Lucy was always big in my house especially growing up, all the Saints were. How much fun that must have been to learn about the Swedish people and their customs. You must try this recipe, they are amazing and fun to make. Thank you again, Enjoy and have a wonderful week! Dottie :) Happy Holidays!!!