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.
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.
Bagna caôda.From Piemonte. The rough translation of title is “hot bath” , which in my opinion is always preferable to a cold one :-) This dish is well known outside of Italy, but as is often the case it often is very different from the original. It is basically a warm anchovy and garlic dip for raw vegetables. These are two of my favourite things, so it’s one of my favourite antipasti. A lot of versions include milk or cream, but these are not found in the original Piemonte version
Bagna caoda ingredients
About 6 anchovy fillets per person. Salted are best, but tinned in oil will do. Soak them in a little white wine.
Garlic (from 2 or 3 cloves per person up to a whole head)
Olive oil, the best you can find, about 1/2 a wine glass per person. Only olive oil will do.
About 20 g of unsalted butter per person.
1 egg per person(optional)
To serve, dip vegetables into the mixture. The recipe I have is very prescriptive and says you can only use vegetables that are in season and grow in Piedmont. I think this is going a bit far though. Some suggestions on what to serve with the Bagna Cauda (raw unless otherwise stated):-
potatoes cooked in their skins and then peeled
Peppers roasted and peeled or raw
Onions boiled or baked
Jerusalem artichokes (raw or cooked))
Cauliflower (raw or cooked)
Small globe artichoke
Small whole mushrooms
Bagna caoda vegetables
Slice the garlic very thinly and soak it in cold water for a couple of hours. Some recipes call for it to be boiled in milk, but I think this is unnecessary.
Add all the ingredients to an earthenware pot along with a small ladle of oil and cook very slowly for about half an hour. Don’t let the garlic brown. Stir it constantly with a wooden spoon. When the anchovies and garlic have dissolved into the sauce, add the rest of the oil.
Bring the pot to the table and keep it warm with some kind heat source. You can buy special pots for this purpose, but fondue sets work well. Serve it with your selection of vegetables.
When you have had your fill of vegetables you can add a beaten egg to what’s left in the pot.
Pollo alla cacciatora. It is very common to find versions of this dish outside of Italy, especially in the United States, however they often bear little resemblance to dishes found here. Even the spelling has been changed, possibly reflecting a dialect spelling originally used by Italian immigrants to the States. The name translates as hunter’s style chicken. I am a bit unsure why as I am unaware of anybody hunting chickens :-) You can also prepare rabbit in this way so maybe that was the original recipe. There are many versions in Italy, but the common factor is the chicken is cooked with white wine and tomatoes. This version is from Liguria. As always, if you can find a really good free range, or at least corn fed chicken it will improve the dish no end. Serves 4-6.
1 chicken cut into cut into 6 or 8 pieces
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion, chopped
Half a celery stalk, chopped
A sprig of rosemary
2 fresh sage leaves
A bay leaf
A glass of white wine
6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded (or an equivalent amount of tinned)
Chicken cacciatore ingredients
Brown the onions, the celery and the garlic in a large pan.
Chicken cacciatore browning the onions
Add the chicken pieces, rosemary, sage and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes over a reasonably high flame.
Chicken cacciatore browning the chicken
Lower the flame and add the wine and cook until it has almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook until the chicken is done. About 45 minutes. Serve directly from the pan.
Some people like to add a little chopped parsley at the end
You can also add sliced fresh or reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms along with the chicken.
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.
Ragù per pasta al forno. This is used for many dishes – lasagne, baked ziti etc. There are many recipes, but the proportion of meat to tomato is always similar. One of the most common mistakes people make is to add too much tomato. If you have time, the flavour improves if you make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Enough for 4-6 portions of pasta.
300g minced beef
75g carrot, finely chopped
75g onion, finely chopped
50g celery, finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onions start to go translucent.
Add the meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is well browned.
Add the wine and continue cooking until it has almost completely evaporated.
Add the passata, season with salt and cover.
Cook very slowly for at least 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out.
At the end of cooking, season with freshly ground black pepper.
Coniglio alla Cacciatore or Huntsman’s Rabbit. When I lived in Bergamo the Sunday lunch was usually roast rabbit with polenta. I was regularly woken at seven in the morning by my neighbour grinding his polenta under my bedroom window. I’m sure he did it on purpose (we didn’t get on that well ;-) ) I see that rabbit is coming back into fashion in the UK, so I thought I’d share this recipe. It’s not roast rabbit, but another common Bergamasco dish. You can use any type of mushroom, even porcini if your bank balance will stand it. Serves 4
Rabbit with mushrooms ingredients
1 rabbit cut into portions
400 g mushrooms
100 g passata
1 stick celery
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp flour
100 ml chicken stock
1 glass dry white wine
5 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the carrot and celery into small strips and thinly slice the onion.
Add to a pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a medium heat until the onions start to go translucent.
Add the rabbit pieces and brown. Sprinkle them with the flour.
Thinly slice the mushrooms and sautè them in a separate pan with the rest of the olive oil and the whole, lightly crushed clove of garlic. Cook until they are well coloured and start to give off their juice.
Add to the pan with the rabbit and add the wine. Cook over a high heat until the wine has reduced by half.
Add the passata and stock, season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about and hour over a low to medium heat.
In truth there probably isn’t one authentic recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, but this one is close enough. There are however countless inauthentic ones. It bears little or no resemblance to the dish known as Bolognese or Bolognaise found outside of Italy. It is also never served with Spaghetti!
On October 17, 1982, the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, “after having carried out long and laborious investigations and conducted studies and research”, announced the following recipe to be the official one. I’m sure that every family in Emilia Romagna has their own version though. Serves 4.
A ragu Bolognese style is a meat sauce that is slow simmered for at least an hour to develop a complex flavor and proper thickness. Cooking the ragu in a heavy-duty enamel or similar pot will hold the heat steady and help to give a velvety texture to the ragu. Bolognese ragu is a classic sauce for lasagne and tagliatelle. The sauce also freezes beautifully.
Bolognese sauce (ragù alla bolognese in Italian) is a meat- and tomato-based pasta sauce originating in Bologna, Italy. It is typically made by simmering ground meat in tomato sauce, white wine, and stock for a long time (often upward of four hours), so that the meat softens and begins to break down into the liquid medium. The original sauce is not done with minced meat; instead, whole meat, usually beef or veal, is chopped with a knife.
Spaghetti alla Bolognese, or spaghetti bolognese which is sometimes further shortened to spag bol, is a dish invented outside of Italy consisting of spaghetti with a meat sauce. In Italy, this sauce is generally not served with spaghetti because it tends to fall off the pasta and stay on the plate. Instead, the people of Bologna traditionally serve their famous meat sauce with tagliatelle (‘tagliatelle alla bolognese). Outside the traditional use, this sauce can be served with tubular pasta or represent the stuffing for lasagna or cannelloni.
While “Bolognese” is undoubtedly the most popular ragù in this country, it is also the most misunderstood.
The ragù you get by that name is usually a characterless tomato sauce with pea-like bits of ground beef floating in it, bearing little resemblance to anything you’d find in Bologna.
And not, in any sense, a ragù.
True ragù alla Bolognese contains no tomato sauce — just enough fresh or canned tomato to add a hint of sweetness and another layer of flavor to a subtle, complex mix. Like all ragùs, Bolognese is characterized by its long, slow cooking, which in this case starts with simmering the meat in milk (to mellow the acidity of the raw tomatoes added later) and wine (some use white, others red), after which the tomatoes are added. The whole lot is cooked together for about two hours
Petti di pollo in carpione. I got this recipe from the English translation of il cucchiaio d’argento -The Silver Spoon. This book is I think on the whole a clever marketing trick. It is a 1950s cookbook with a few modern recipes tacked on the end. Add to that an appalling translation, don’t trust any measurements! The recipes still appear in the original Italian alphabetical order even though they have been translated into English. I have met some people who have heard of it here, a bit like the good housekeeping books in the UK, but I have yet to find anybody who has used it. It can be useful for ideas if you already know what you are doing. The following recipe is in fact very nice :-) Serves 4
Soused chicken breasts ingredients
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast portions
80 g breadcrumbs
25 g butter(or use all oil)
5 tablespoons olive oil (I usually use much less)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 celery stick, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
350 ml white wine vinegar
100 ml dry white wine
4 fresh sage leaves (or a teaspoon of dried)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
salt and pepper
Beat the chicken with a meat mallet until evenly thin.
Beat the egg with a pinch of salt in a dish, add the chicken and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Spread out the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Drain the chicken and dip in the breadcrumbs to coat.
Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan, add the chicken and cook over a medium heat, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes until golden brown on both sides.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in another pan, add the onion, celery and carrot and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the vinegar and wine and bring to the boil, then immediately remove from the heat and add the sage and garlic.
Place the chicken in a dish, pour the hot marinade over it, leave to cool, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.
This recipe is not for what we normally think of as ‘pesto’. A huge number of Italian sauces start with what’s known as a ‘soffritto’. Usually that means finely chopped onions, carrots ,celery, and possibly garlic. Nonna Stella prepares her soffritto in advance and keeps it in a jar in the fridge. She also adds celery leaves, parsley and basil to the mix. When you need to make a sauce, let’s say for example a tomato sauce, all you need to do is fry a couple of tablespoons of the pesto for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook it down for ten minutes and you’re done. Fast food Italian style :-) . This is possibly the most useful recipe I’ve picked up. It will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge, if you remember to keep it covered with about a centimeter of oil.
Good olive oil
Celery (Including leaves if possible)
The quantities are a matter of taste, but I use roughly equal quantities of onions and carrots and halve the quantity of celery.
Peel the onions and carrots.
Roughly chop the onions, carrotts and celery and whizz in a food processor, adding a little oil from time to time, until you have a smooth paste.
Add a good handful each of celery leaves, basil and parsley and process again, adding more oil when necessary, until the herbs are incorporated into the paste.
Transfer to a clean jar, a traditional pickle jar would be ideal, and pour a least a centimeter of oil on top.
Keep in the fridge until needed.
Here’s Nonna Stella herself to show you how it’s done.
The pesto will only be as good as the ingredients you use. Above all, use the best olive oil you can find. Nonna Stella is very proud of the oil produced by her grandson in Cassano. They don’t have to buy oil in her house. I wish I had a supply :-)
This is a traditional new year’s eve dish. CotechinoModena or Cotechino di Modena, also sometimes spelled cotecchino or coteghino, is a fresh sausage made from pork and comes from Modena. Zampone Modenais closely related, but uses the pig’s trotter as a sausage case. There are two kinds of cotechino: Raw and precooked, though most Italians buy the precooked kind, which comes in a foil packet which you have to boil gently for 20 minutes. You should be able to get a ready cooked cotechino in an Italian deli. Serves 4
Put the lentils, half the onion and one of the celery sticks in a large
Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until
the lentils are tender – about 45 minutes.
When they are done discard the onion and celery. Chop the remaining onion
and celery finely.
Heat the oil and butter in a pan. Fry the onion and celery for about 5
Drain the lentil and add to the pan. Cook over a low heat, stirring
Season with salt and pepper.
If using a precooked cotechino, reheat according to the instructions on the packet. If you are using a fresh one, place it in a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water, bring to a simmer and cook gently for 2 hours for a small (600g) one, up to 4 hours for a larger (1000g) one. At the end of the cooking time, remove from the heat and allow to rest in the cooking liquid for 10 minutes, drain and slice into thick rounds.
Serve the lentils with slices of the sausage on top.