We’re back with more gems and culinary treats to share on Tasting Tucson!

We visited Zio Peppe on the east-side to try a crowd-favorite appetizer.

Chef and co-owner Devon Sanner showed us how to marry the best of Mexican and Italian flavors through a recipe for ‘elote arancini.’

Here’s Sanner’s quick description of the arancini: “Crispy, golden brown, delicious.” What else is there to say?

We asked Chef Sanner just how popular these fried snacks are, which bring together your Tia’s with Nonna’s magic touch.

“This is one, if we tried to take it off the menu,” Sanner said, “the torches and pitchforks come out, and (there’s) riots in the streets.” Who would’ve thought these little fried balls would warrant the same response as Frankenstein’s monster.

If you follow a traditional recipe for arancini, you’d coat your cooked risotto with flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Here, Chef Sanner made his own twist. “We roll that in (corn) masa and egg and crushed totopos tortilla chips that we fry in house,” he said.

Devon and his partner, Mat Cable, opened Zio Peppe in 2021, calling it a culinary “bromance.” We asked Sanner how the community has reacted to their unique Tucson take on fusion cuisine.

“Zio peppe is Mat and I’s love letter to Tucson,” he said, “a celebration of the bounty of Tucson cuisine, of Sonora cuisine, through a lens of Italian and Italian-American classics. I think when it’s done with intention and with a little bit of forethought and integrity, it’s not a bad thing at all.”

So let’s focus on those good things! It’s time to fry up the arancini for about three minutes in the oil. A little tajin seasoning kicks things up a notch, and the cilantro and lime crema sauce makes these snacks sing.

“(Put) a little more on top,” Sanner said. “You can never get enough of the sauce! The tang, the punch, the creaminess.” In true Tasting Tucson fashion, everything is better with cheese, so we put on a little more crumbled ‘queso fresco.’

“There’s already a high degree of saltiness in the risotto itself and in the arancini,” Sanner said, “so to balance that out, queso fresco is a less salty cheese that cotija; a little less dry as well.”

A little extra serving of trivia: the name Zio Peppe means “Uncle Joe” in Italian. It’s a loving nod to Mat’s uncle Joe, who opened the first Sicilian pizza place in Tucson nearly 50 years ago.