Inspector Montalbano is a popular fictional Sicilian police detective, created by Andrea Camilleri. The stories are set in the small town of Vigata , and, being Italian, feature food quite prominently. In the story Inspector Montelbano’s Arancini (Gli arancini di Montalbano), the famous Sicilian dish is used as a plot device. Does the inspector want to leave Sicily to be with his girlfriend in Paris, or does he want to stay and eat his housekeeper Adelina’s arancini. I won’t tell you what he decides, but you can probably guess My father is a fan of the books, and he is fond of arancini when he visits me, so I decided to recreate this recipe from the book. The main differences between Adelina’s dish, and the more well known version is that she uses béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Also the ragù is made with whole pieces of meat, not mince.
For the ragù
150g of reasonably fatty beef in one piece
150g of reasonably fatty pork in one piece
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a few leaves of basil
250ml of passata
1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
For the risotto
500g risotto rice
1 small onion
oil and butter to taste
150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients
Fry the onion and celery gently in a little oil. Add the two pieces of meat and brown them on all sides.
Add the passata and tomato purée diluted in a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed. Cook slowly for at least an hour and a half, longer if possible. Add the chopped parsley and basil, and cook for a further half an hour. This sauce can also be made in advance.
Arancini Ragù cooked
Make a classic risotto following the standard recipe, but without wine or cheese. It should be quite dry. Montalbano is quiet clear that it should be without saffron. (senza zaffirano, pi carità!)
Arancini cooking risotto
Tip the risotto out onto a marble slab (or a large tray), let it cool a little and then mix with a little of the tomato sauce and stir in the eggs. Let it cool completely. Put it into the fridge for about half an hour.
Arancini risotto cooling
Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water. Chop the meat with a mezzaluna or a knife. Montalbano forbids the use of a food processor (nenti frullatore, pi carità di Dio!) :) Mix some of the béchamel sauce with the peas and salami cut into small cubes. Add enough of the tomato sauce from the meat to make a fairly thick mixture.
Arancini mixed filling
Slightly dampen your hands and take some of the rice and roll it in the palm of your hand trying to make a sort of bowl. Put a spoonful of the ragù mixture in the middle. Cover with a little more rice and form it into a ball.You are aiming for about tennis ball size. Continue until you run out of rice. You probably won’t need all of the filling.
Arancini ready for coating
Put them in the fridge again for half an hour or so to firm up. Coat with egg, and then roll in bread crumbs.
Arancini ready for cooking
Fry the arancini in hot oil (about 165°C) until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels. They are best eaten hot, but are also good cold.
Torta Pasqualina or Easter Monday pie is a very popular dish to have today that has its origins in Liguria. Easter Monday is traditionally a day for picnics and this is often one of the things taken along. This is a slightly simplified version as it uses pre prepared puff pastry. It’s good to know that doctors no longer say eating cholesterol is bad for you as it includes at least 10 eggs. Serves at least 6.
500g puff pastry
500g swiss chard or spinach, stalks removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
80g of parmesan or pecorino romano (or a mixture of both)
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley
300g ricotta, passed through a sieve to remove lumps
1 tbsp of single cream
Torta pasqualina ingredients
Put the swiss chard, the onion and 2 tbsp of oil into a saucepan. Season with salt and people and cook over a medium heat until the chard is completely wilted. Allow to cool and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Torta pasqualina wilting chard
Chop finely and transfer to a bowl. Add an egg, 50g of cheese and the marjoram or parsley and mix well.
Torta pasqualina filling
In another bowl mix together the ricotta, the cream, 2 eggs and 30g of cheese.
Torta pasqualina assembling pie
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and use it to line an oiled cake tin. Make a layer with the chard. Cover with the ricotta. Crack 6 eggs, regularly spaced onto the surface.
Torta pasqualina ready for the oven
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the pastry and use it to close the pie. Trim off the excess pastry and fold over and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 °c for 45 minutes.
Hard boiled eggs are of course an important symbol of Easter in Italy. They are often eaten as part of an Easter antipasto. This is one of the simplest, and in my opinion best recipes.
6 hardboiled eggs
6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
4 tablespoons of olive oil
chopped parsley or chives
Eggs mimosa ingredients
Halve the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl along with the anchovies and pepper to taste. Blend with a blender, adding the olive oil little by little, until you have a smooth paste. Fill the empty halves of the eggs with the mixture, sprinkle with parsley or chives and serve.
Pasta con fagioli e cozze. From Naples. This is a variation on the classic Neapolitan dish of pasta and beans. The pasta is cooked in the sauce which makes it very tasty. Serves 4.
700g mussels, cleaned
1 clove of garlic
50 ml white wine
450g cooked cannellini beans (You can use canned if you like)
200g chopped tomatoes
200g short pasta such as ditali, gnochetti sardi etc
100ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Red chilli to taste, fresh or dried
Pasta with beans and mussels ingredients
Soften the garlic in a little olive oil. Add the mussels and the wine, cover and cook over a high heat until the mussels have opened. About 5 minutes
Pasta with beans and mussels opening the mussels
Remove the mussels from their shells and strain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Pasta with beans and mussels cooking the pasta
Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the beans. Stir in the tomatoes, the reserved cooking liquid and the stock and bring to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is done (refer to the packet for cooking times).
Remove from the heat, stir in the mussels and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and chilli
Ossibuchi con il risotto. From Milan. Veal has gone out of fashion in the UK at the moment. It never did in the Italy because they don’t use the “crate” method. Italians are more practical when it comes to food. The aversion to “white” veal has nothing to do with ethics, it doesn’t taste as nice. This is one of the most famous Italian veal dishes. In my opinion the best bit of the dish is the marrow, which I always save until the end. Serves 4.
Ossobucco finished dish
4 slices of veal shank with the bone in the centre (ossibuchi)
Fry the onion (and the celery if used) and the whole garlic clove, over a low heat, for a few minutes in the butter until softened. Remove the garlic before serving( if you want a stronger garlic flavour, chop the clove and fry it along with the onion).
Lightly flour the veal slices and add them to the onions. Fry them on both sides until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to disturb the marrow in the centre of the bone.
Turn up the heat and add the glass of wine. Let it almost completely evaporate.
Add a ladle of hot stock, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes until tender.
Cook the risotto using the usual method, adding the saffron along with the last ladle of stock.
When the veal is cooked add the chopped lemon zest, half a clove of chopped garlic(optional) and chopped parsley (gremolata) and serve on top of the risotto.
Cozze ripiene gratinate. This is quite an unusual mussel recipe. Mussels baked on the half shell are a very common antipasto here, but this recipe treats them a bit like the French scallop dish coquilles saint-jacques. They are baked with white sauce, cheese and wine. Serves 4 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.
Clean the mussels well. Place them in a pan along with half the clove of garlic, a sprig of parsley and the wine. Open the mussels by placing the pan over a high heat. Drain the mussels and filter and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove them from their shells.
Baked mussels opened with cooking liquid
Mix the mussel meat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, a chopped sprig of parsley, the rest of the garlic, chopped and a tbsp of the cooking liquid. Season with pepper.
Baked mussels removed from their shells
Place each mussel on a half shell.
Baked mussels on the half shell
Mix together the white sauce, the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Top each shell with some of the mixture.
Baked mussels with white sauce
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the top and bake at 190°c for 15 minutes.
Spaghetti con le cozze. This is a recipe that I cook a lot, but have never got round to posting. I, like the Barese, love mussels. They are always cheap and are available all year. Here the size changes with the season, but you can make this dish with big or small mussels, it doesn’t matter. They say that the smaller ones have a better flavour. Some people open the mussels raw for this dish. To be honest the flavour is probably marginally better, but I am not very good at opening them so I never have time. If you are adept at opening mussels, feel free to remove the shells before adding them, but don’t forget to include any water that comes out. Some people also remove the shells after they have opened. Again, it depends on my mood, but I usually don’t.You can also use fresh or tinned tomatoes.
1kg Mussels weighed with the shells
1 clove of garlic
500g peeled tomatoes
A few sprigs of chopped parsley
Chilli (optional to taste, can be fresh or dried)
Sauté the garlic for a few minutes so that it softens, but doesn’t brown.
Add the chilli (if fresh, if you are using dry, add it after the tomatoes)
Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes.
Add the mussels and cook uncovered over a medium heat until they are all open
Sgombri in salsa di pomodoro. The “tomato sauce” in this recipe is really a tomato flavoured poaching liquid. The recipe appears to contain an awful lot of oil, but you wont actually be eating much of the sauce, so it’s not as bad as it seems.Serve warm or cold. Serves 4.
Mackerel in tomato sauce ingredients
1 kg Mackerel – cleaned.
3 onions – sliced
3 carrots – finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
6 tbsp passata
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 glass of olive oil
In a pan big enough to accommodate the fish (a fish kettle would be ideal), soften the onions in half the olive.
Add the carrots, garlic and parsley and fry for a further couple of minutes.
Add the rest of the oil, 2 glasses of water and the passata. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer and add the fish. If the fish isn’t covered by the liquid, add a little more hot water.
Cover and cook until the mackerel are done, about 10 minutes.
Allow to cool before serving. This dish is best served warm or cold.
Alternative method: Add the fish. When the liquid returns to the boil, remove from the heat, cover and allow the fish to cool in the liquid.
Alici arraganate. From Puglia. There is probably not much chance of finding fresh anchovies in the UK, but if you do, this is a good recipe to try. It takes a fair bit of preparation, but it’s worth it in the end. You need to clean them as soon as you get them home as they will spoil extremely quickly. Do not do as I did this morning and leave yourself 30 minutes to clean a couple of hundred anchovies before you have to go to work To clean them, snap the back bone just behind the head and pull. The guts should come out with the head. If you can’t get the hang of that, use a small sharp knife to cut through the back bone, taking care not to cut all the way through and pull. Next remove the backbone by running your thumb along the spine of the fish, flattening it out into two fillets. The backbone should then be easy to pull out. “Close” the fillets by folding them along the line of the backbone. The recipe says this will feed 4 as an antipasto, but it would feed at least that number as a British style starter.
Branzino all’acqua pazza. This is a very simple way to poach fish. Acqua pazza translates as “crazy water”. Just what exactly is meant to be so crazy about it, I’ve no idea. It works best with firm, white fleshed fish. You can use fillets, steaks or whole fish. On this occasion I used fillets. Serves 4
Bass in acqua pazza ingredients
4 sea bass – filleted
400g cherry tomatoes – halved or left whole according to preference
A few sprigs of parsley – chopped
A clove of garlic – chopped
1 chilli – fresh or dried (optional)
Dry white wine
Fry the garlic and chilli in olive oil until the garlic has started to colour. Use a pan big enough to take all the fish in a single layer.
Add the tomatoes, parsley and a generous slug of white wine.
Add the fish in a single layer. Add water to bring the level of liquid up to about halfway up the fillets.
Cover and simmer until the fish is done. About 10 minutes for medium sized fillets.
Spigola su letto di Limoni. This recipe comes from an Italian tv chef. It’s a bit showy as you might expect. You have to clean the fish by making a slit down either side of the back bone. Snip through the back bone and remove it along with the guts. If you’re not so worried about the look of the thing, I’m sure it would taste just as good if you cleaned it the usual way, via the belly. Better still, you could fillet the bass and bake the fillets covered with the chopped tomato mixture. Serves 4
Sea bass on a bed of lemons ingredients
4 small sea bass – prepared as above
100g cherry tomatoes – chopped
8 whole cherry tomatoes
2 or 3 lemons thinly sliced
A few needles of fresh rosemary
1 clove of garlic – finely chopped
1 or 2 sprigs of parsley – finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Mix together the chopped tomatoes, rosemary, garlic, parsley and a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the fish with this mixture.
Add two slices of lemon to each fish, one on each side of the cavity. They should look something like the leaves of an open book.
Add two whole cherry tomatoes to each fish and drizzle with a little more oil.
Crumple a sheet of aluminium and use this to support the fish and keep them upright while cooking.
Bake for ten minutes at 180C
Cover a serving plate with the rest of the lemon slices arrange the cooked fish on top.
Spaghetti con la gallinella. Gurnard is used mainly as a soup fish here. This recipe however serves it poached and flaked with spaghetti. This avoids the problem of navigating the numerous bones. When you’ve finished you’ll be left with a couple of litres of pretty good fish stock which is worth saving and would freeze well. Serves 4.
Spaghetti with gurnard ingedients
300g whole gurnard – cleaned
Zest from 1 lemon
Parsley – finely chopped
1 clove of garlic
100g small or cherry tomatoes – sliced
Stock vegetables (Onion, carrot, celery)
Peel and chop the stock vegetables. Add to a pan with 3 litres of water and a large pinch of salt. Simmer for 30 minutes. You can omit this step if you are pressed for time.
Add the fish and poach for 5-6 minutes. The fish should be starting to flake, but not dissolving. Remove the fish and allow to cool slightly. Strain and reserve the stock.
Flake the fish taking care to remove all the bones.
Mince together the lemon zest, the garlic and the parsley.
Fry the fish gently in a little olive oil and add a little of the stock. Be careful not to add to much, you don’t want it too sloppy.
Cook the spaghetti in the stock until al dente
Just before the spaghetti is done, add the minced ingredients and the tomatoes to the fish and warm through.
Drain the spaghetti and add to the pan with the fish. Mix well and cook for a further minute or so.
Cozze gratinate. From Puglia. I wanted to try this recipe to see if it makes a difference cooking the mussels from raw, rather than opening them in a hot pan first. I have to say it does! They were much nicer. Use a short knife to open the mussels over a bowl to catch the liquid. I still need a bit of pratice, but I was getting it towards the end. Serves 4 as a main course, more as an antipasto.
Gratinated mussels ingredients
1 kg mussels – well cleaned and opened on the half shell (reserve the liquid)