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.
Zuppa di aglio. Versions of this soup exist all over the world. I used to live in the Czech Republic and česnečka was said to be a fantastic cure for a hangover It is best made with new season “wet” garlic, but regular dried garlic will give good results. Use very good stock, it will be so much better than cubes. It can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and a vegetarian cheese. Serves 4.
Simmer the garlic and potato in the stock for about 20 minutes. The garlic and potato should be very tender.
Liquidize until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side on both side of the toast. This will produce quite a strong garlic flavour, so be careful. If you prefer a mild flavour, leave out this step altogether.
Drizzle the toast with olive oil, put a slice into each bowl, pour the hot soup on top and sprinkle with parmesan.
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.
Involtini di verza. This is a good winter dish. There are many versions, but I prefer this one because the stuffing is not so heavy as it contains rice and chopped cabbage rather than all meat. It can be served as an antipasto or a second course, but it is quite substantial, so it is probably better as a second course. Serves 6
Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.
stuffed cabbage removing stalk
Blanch the leaves in abundant boiling water. Take 150g of the more tender centre of the cabbage and chop finely.
stuffed cabbage cooking filling
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the carrot, celery and onion gently for about 15 minutes. Be careful that they do not brown. Increase the heat and add the rice and “toast” for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine, the sausage and the chopped cabbage. Stirring constantly wait until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of the hot stock and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Continue using the standard risotto method until the rice is cooked. Mix in the parmesan.
stuffed cabbage filling rolls
Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.
stuffed cabbage filled roll
Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.
stuffed cabbage ready for the oven
Cover the base of a casserole with little olive oil and half a ladle stock. Arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the dish with melted butter and parmesan.
Stuffed cabbage finished dish
Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, finish off under the grill for 5 minutes. Let the rolls rest for 10 minutes and the 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
From Puglia. This is a puglian version of the more well known Sicilian dish arancini. It is very simple to make however. There are versions that use other chesses and cured meats, but this one uses the easily available (abroad I mean) salami, ham and mozzarella. Serves at least 6 as an antipasto.
400g risotto rice
100g sliced salami (Milanese or similar)
100g sliced cooked ham
200g mozzarella cut into small cubes
40g grated parmesan
1 tsp salt
A pinch of pepper
Oil for frying
Rice croquettes ingredients
Boil the rice in plenty of salted water until done, about 10 minutes. Drain and add the butter. You could substitute vegetable stock for the water if you prefer. Allow to cool completely. You can prepare it the day before if you like.
Roughly chop the salami and ham. Combine with the rice, the mozzarella, the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and finally add the eggs and mix well.
Rice croquettes formed
Form the mixture into cigar shapes, about 50g each. I find it easiest to use my hands.
Rice croquettes ready to fry
Coat them in breadcrumbs and deep fry them in hot oil until golden.
From Puglia. This is another very simple recipe that I cook a lot when green beans are in season. The pictures have been sitting on my computer for a while, so they are no longer in season, but should be fairly easy to get. The recipe uses ricotta marzottica or dura, which is hard to get outside Italy. The best substitute is grana or parmesan. Don’t use regular ricotta, it’s a different thing completely. The beans are cooked for quite a long time and you might consider them to be overcooked, but it works well with the pasta. If you prefer, you could add the beans along with the spaghetti.Serves 4.
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.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe. From Rome. This is another recipe that I cook a lot, but have never got around to posting. Spaghetti (vermicelli is a synonym for spaghetti) with pecorino and black pepper sauce. Anyone who has ever been to Rome will know it. It seems like almost every trattoria there has it on the menu. It is very simple, just three ingredients, but one of my favourite ways to eat pasta. It is always worth spending a little more to get really good quality ingredients, but it is especially important to use good cheese with this dish. Use a good Pecorino Romano DOC (PDO). Serves 4.
Roughly crack the pepper corns. You can use a pestle and mortar, or as I do a coffee grinder. How much you add is a matter of taste, but it’s very important that it should be freshly ground. Don’t grind it too finely.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente and drain, reserving some of the cooking water.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe mixing the pasta
Mix the pasta together with some of the cooking water and most of the cheese. You should obtain a creamy sauce that coats the spaghetti well. If the sauce is too wet, add some more cheese. Likewise, if the sauce is too dry, add some more cooking water. Add the pepper and mix again. Serve topped with the rest of the cheese.
Casonsei alla Bergamasca. When I lived in Bergamo we used to drive up into the mountains once or twice a year to eat polenta taragna. The starter was invariably casoncelli, or casonsei in the bergamasco dialect. Slightly sweet filled pasta dressed with sage and pancetta. Makes a generous 8 servings.
Casoncelli finished dish
For the pasta:-
400 g 00 flour
100 g durum wheat flour
Mix together all the ingredients along with enough water to make a dough. Knead until smooth. Let it rest for half an hour or so and then roll out into reasonably thick sheets. A hand cranked pasta machine will be a great help with this.
Orecchiette con cime di rape. This probably the most well known dish from Bari. Cime di rape are known as turnip tops in British English. It’s funny, but I’ve never seen turnips in Italy. It must be a real problem for the ex-pat Scots on Burns’ night. They are known as rapini or broccoli rabe in American English. In fact if you can’t find cime di rape you can use broccoli. The results won’t be the same, but it will be in the same ball park. I have seen recipes that also use cherry tomatoes which are added to the oil after the anchovies have dissolved. You can cook the cime di rape along with the pasta or, as I prefer, cook the cime di rape and then cook the pasta in the same water. Some recipes also don’t use chillies and/or anchovies so the dish can easily be made vegetarian. Serves 4
Orecchiette con cime di rape finished dish
400 g orecchiette
800 g cime di rape
4 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon or more olive oil
1 large clove of garlic
1 dried chilli (optional)
Orecchiette con cime di rape ingredients
Wash the cime di rape well. I prefer to discard the larger stalks, but some people leave them in.
Washed cime di rape
Boil the rape in plenty of salted water until it is cooked to your liking. I find 3 or 4 minutes is enough. Drain them saving the water.
Cooked cime di rape
Cook the orecchiette until they are al dente in the water you used to cook the cima di rape. Meanwhile fry the anchovies, whole garlic clove and chilli in the olive oil. Stir until the anchovies dissolve. Cook for a few minutes over a medium heat.
Frying the anchovies and chilli
Remove the garlic clove and add the cime di rape. Mix well. Finally add the oriecchette and serve.
Panzerotti. From Bari. These are one of the most famous and popular dishes from Bari. They are deep fried pockets of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings. Two of the most common are mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and oregano and ricotta forte (also called skuanda), cherry tomatoes, onion and anchovies. Ricotta forte is a bit of a “Marmite” ingredient. By that I mean it is very strongly flavoured and you either love it or hate it. I am in the first camp, lovely stuff. Rather than cherry tomatoes, “appesi” are more traditional. These are small tomatoes which are picked when still not completely ripe and hung up for later consumption. As these are hard to find, you can use any type. I went to a party here and a lady was employed just to make panzerotti all evening. The last round was filled with Nutella! The size of the panzerotti varies, but I made 12 with this recipe.
For the pastry
500 g 00 flour
100 ml tepid milk
1 cube of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of olive oil
10 g salt
Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the milk to the flour, oil and salt along with enough tepid water to make a smooth dough.
Oil the dough, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for up to 2 hours.
Separate the dough into 12 portions and roll into small balls. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further half an hour.
Panzerotti balls of dough
Take one ball of dough and roll it into a large disc. Place a large tablespoon of filling in the middle of each one. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape. Press down well and try to exclude as much air as possible. Either fold over and crimp the edges or cut off the excess pastry with a pasty wheel and seal the edges with a fork.
Panzerotti ready to cook
Deep fry the panzerotti until they are lightly golden. Some people use extra virgin olive oil and some people use regular vegetable oil. You can also bake them in an oven at 200 °C for 15 minutes, but the result is quite different.
Panzerotti finished dish
200 g mozzarella
300 g cherry tomatoes
Chop and drain the tomatoes. Cube the mozzarella. Mix together with a generous amount of mozzarella.
Pizza di cipolle. From Bari. This is another “pizza” that is in fact a pie or calzone. This can be made with “long onions” which I have never seen outside Italy, but this recipe uses white onions which are easy to find. Indeed if you can’t find then I’m sure you would get good results with other types of onion. There are versions without the olives and/or anchovies so feel free to leave them out if you prefer. The dough is made without yeast so it is very quick. Serves 6 to 8.
Pasta e ricotta. This is a very simple dish, but delicious all the same. The quality of the ricotta is very important. You can of course make this dish with ordinary supermarket ricotta and the results will be perfectly acceptable, but it will be much better with the fresh version. If you can find sheep’s milk ricotta, even better. This being Bari, I made it with it with orecchiette, but it goes with just about any type of pasta. There are lots of things you can add that change the character of the dish drastically. Serves 6.
pasta with ricotta ingredients
500 g pasta (any type)
500 g ricotta – the best you can find, preferably sheep’s milk.
Potato Gnocchi don’t come from one particular region in Italy, but they are more of a northern thing. A sort of pasta for potato lovers. They are fairly easy, although time consuming to make. You can however freeze the gnocchi. Cook from frozen for 6-7 minutes. Some people like to make ridges using a fork, grater or a special tool. I don’t bother as this takes ages and I don’t think it adds much to the dish.
1 kg potatoes
300 g 00 flour
salt and pepper
Put the unpeeled potatoes into cold, salted water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 20 minutes until tender.
Peel using a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the hot potatoes.
Mash the potatoes preferably using a potato ricer or vegetable mill.
Add the egg and mix quickly to avoid it cooking from the residual heat in the potato.
Add the flour and knead until you get a smooth dough. This shouldn’t take too long.
Break off a fist sized piece of dough and roll out a sausage about 3cm wide. Cut into 2cm pieces.
To cook, tip the gnocchi into boiling salted water. They are ready when they have all floated to the surface.
Drain the gnocchi and toss with a little olive oil to stop them sticking together.
Serve the gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce or maybe plain with a little parmesan.