The Holiday Markets, which used to be so novel in New York City, now spring up in every empty corner of the city as soon as the Halloween pumpkins have gone moldy. I don’t get the same charge I did when walking through the festive isles. Now the wares are not so much appealing as appallingly the same: the self-heating slippers, New York State shaped cutting boards, lumpy hand-crafted soaps and everything at a price point of $16.00 and up.
However… as the markets have proliferated so have the eats. Shoppers get hangry. There are Russian Dumplings, Chinese Bing, Italian Panini, Bolivian chola and more. One night when leaving the main branch of the New York Public Library (one of my favorite places to write, and which is currently hosting a fun exhibit of holiday spirit expressed by literary luminaries) I was peckish. Passing the food booths at the Bryant Park Holiday Market. I looked for a little something to hold me until our usual late, 8:30 repast, and I found not just one but three little somethings at Brooklyn Based Arancini Brothers. Arancini are Sicilian fried rice balls, named for the oranges they resemble. The Food Network even picked up the brothers’ recipe which calls for cooking Arborio rice into a risotto, packing it around meaty or vegetarian morsels, and deep frying in oil. Delicioso! And, the crispy fried coating is so light it seems like a mere dusting of fried bread crumbs. I had the most traditional arancino, a luscious saffron-scented beef ragu complete with peas and then spinach and ricotta and pizza flavoured arancini ($7.00/3).The brothers with balls have a smaller sampling at their holiday pop-up than they do at their shops, where you can order palate piquing flavors like pistachio pesto, squid ink risotto with spicy shrimp and even a BBQ ball with pulled pork.
Beyond their compact goodness Arancini have a particular appeal for me: the Chef has tried several times to make them and failed. Inspired by gifts of homemade arancini from our Italian American friend, Karen Zebiak, or from the delicate offerings at Brooklyn Sicilian stalwart, Ferdinando’s Focacceria, he has tried his hand. Yet, sadly his arancini always fall apart in the pan. Knowing how fragile they are, I appreciate all the more the deftness of the three Brooklyn men, who took an obscure Sicilian street food, dating from the 10th century, and satisfied my 21st century hunger.
Arancinci Brothers (Year-round flagship)
120 Essex Street (South of Delancey)