Arancini originated with the arrival of the Saracens in Southern Italy and Sicily in the 9th century. The Saracens brought the rice, the spices and the oranges for which the dish is named. Arancini began inot at all as “little oranges” but in what was a very simple casserole of rice baked with yellow saffron served with meats and eaten by hand. The round or pear shaped version with the fried crust came about under the reign of Federico II Hohenstaufen II (1105-1147) who required something he could easily carry on hunting trips. The filling for the rice balls varies from region to region. The simple arancino finds just a bit of cheese at it center and the rice is dotted with peas. A more complex version, especially in Sicily, the filling may consist not only of cheese but of various bits of ground beef or hams. The addition of tomato sauce, however, does not appear until late in the 18th century. Tomatoes, after all, are a fruit of the New World.
The word “arancini” the name of these wonderful rice balls is something of a linguistic curiosity. Italian, unlike English has words that are either masculine or feminine. Sometimes, however, words cross gender. In Italian the name “arancini” means “little oranges.” But there is a language problem eher. The problem is that the word “orange” in Italian is feminine. The singular ends in an “a”, the plural ends in an “e.” Since the word is not masculine but feminine, the name of the rice balls should be “arancine” but for some reason this is not the case and the word has a masculine ending. Arancini is a masculine plural noun. Having noted this change it should also be noted that in some regions the word retains its feminine ending as “arancine,” a feminine plural. Then too, to complicate further, in the Sicilian dialect where arancini originated they are called “arancinu,” also a masculine ending.