Antonia and Mario Troiano, co-owners of Antonio's Italian Market in Wanamassa, make thousands of Sicilian rice balls every holiday season.

Antonia and Mario Troiano, co-owners of Antonio’s Italian Market in Wanamassa, make thousands of Sicilian rice balls every holiday season.

They’re so good, they’ll make you believe in Santa again.

Decades ago, when Antonia Troiano, co-owner of Antonio’s Deli in Wanamassa, began making rice balls with her mom in their kitchen she had no idea about the holiday tradition she would be creating.

Ten years ago, the rice balls became a staple of Troiano’s Italian market in Staten Island.  Today, customers from all over crave the warm, crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside bites of heaven.  She is planning on making more than 5,000 Sicilian-style and cheese rice balls to be part of hundreds of family’s traditions this holiday.

I spoke with Troiano and her son Mario last week.

TBP:  Your rice balls are something very special.

Troiano:  The recipe for the rice balls we sell is about 100 years old.  My mom got the Sicilian recipe from one of her best friends who lived in Sicily.  My family and I came here in 1971 from Bari, Italy.

Since then, I have tried every brand of ingredient possible to make what my customers tell me is the best, freshest available.

I am not being crazy by saying the rice balls’ popularity during the holidays is out of control.  My customers tell me they are famous in Staten Island.  No matter how many we make, we always run out on Christmas Eve.

The Sicilian recipe, from my mother’s friend, is a baseball-sized rice ball filled with chop meat, peas and two kinds of fresh cheese.  We make the mozzarella in the store.  Then we lightly bread and quickly fry it.  Usually, the Sicilian is served with marinara or Bolognese sauce.  They could be a meal.

I created the “mini” cheese balls after years of making the Sicilian.  They are a little smaller than a billiard ball and have a special mix of fresh cheeses and chopped parsley.

For both recipes they are made the same, old fashioned, authentic way my mom and I did 40 years ago. None of the ingredients are dried or fake.  I make the breadcrumbs from the fresh bread we sell in the store.  Always the best and lots and lots of cheese.

TBP:  And the result is a creamy-crispy product that even my grandmother would be proud of.

Troiano:  We make them fresh every day – they are never frozen.  In our kitchen, it takes two hours from beginning to end to make a batch of the rice balls.  The type of rice is so important – and I have tried every kind of the past 40 years.  I know the rice is done by looking at it’s shine. Everything has to be measured to make sure it doesn’t become a disaster in the fryer.  Also, the oil temperature has to be precise so they don’t come out greasy.

My mom passed away earlier this year.  I learned everything I know from her.  She joked with me that I will think of her every day because of the rice balls.  She was so proud that I share the recipe with so many, all year long, but especially during Christmas.

She is one of the reasons why we sell the Sicilian style for $2.75 each.  We want people to enjoy and eat lots of them.  If they are expensive, they don’t taste as good.

TBP:  This is your fourth holiday season in Wanamassa.

Troiano:  I enjoy cooking for people.  I am paranoid and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what I need to make for my customer’s meals.  I want everything to be perfect every time, down to the last detail.

For the holidays we have homemade crown and rib roast; we make tripe.  And for dessert we have honey balls I make from scratch by my mom’s recipe.

This is a family business and we all know how important food and family are.  We take it very seriously that our customers are relying on us to help with their celebrations.  I want it to taste like homemade, not like food bought from a restaurant.  Everything we make here, I serve to my family.  And our customers are part of our extended family.