Inspector Montalbano’s Arancini

Arancini finished dish

Arancini finished dish

Coat_of_arms_of_SicilyInspector 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
  • beef stock
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
  • 80g of spicy salami in a single piece
  • béchamel sauce made with 250ml of milk.
  • 2 eggs
  • breadcrumbs
  • oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients

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

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

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

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

Arancini mixed filling

Arancini forming

Arancini forming

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

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

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.

Arancini cooked

Arancini cooked

Aubergine parmigiana

Parmigiana di melanzane. From Puglia. This is a really common dish here. It takes a bit of time to prepare, so it tends to be a celebration dish. It’s worth the effort though. Lots of people, even Jamie Oliver, assume it’s a northern dish because of it’s name. It is in fact named after the cheese not the city and is a southern dish.He also says to grill the aubergines rather than fry them. I’ve tried it this way and although the dish is undoubtedly less calorific,  I think the taste suffers considerably.  The dish is claimed by Puglia, Campania and Sicily and possibly other regions as their own.  I’ve seen similar recipes from the states called “eggplant lasagne” even though it contains no béchamel sauce or … erm … lasagne. Even though it’s a vegetarian dish it’s quite heavy so I wouldn’t recommend eating it too often. Serves at least 6 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.

Aubergine parmigiana

Aubergine parmigiana

  • 1.5 kg aubergines
  • 700 g tomato pulp or passata
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 g grated parmesan
  • 400 g mozzarella cut into small cubes
  • Flour
  • Basil, about 10 leaves torn into pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, whole
  • Olive oil
  1. Wash and dry the aubergines. Slice into 5 mm rounds. Dust with flour. Dip in the eggs and fry for a minutes in olive oil. Drain on kitchen paper.
  2. Fry the clove of garlic in 4 table spoons of olive oil until it is brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic.
  3. Cover the bottom of an oven proof dish with tomato sauce. Add a layer aubergines. Add a layer of mozzarella and then parmesan. Repeat until all the aubergine is used up. Finish with a layer of aubergines covered with tomato sauce and parmesan.
  4. Bake for 1 hour at 200°c. If the top starts to get too brown, cover it with aluminium foil.
Aubergine parmigiana finished dish

Aubergine parmigiana finished dish

Spaghetti with olives

Spaghetti con le olive. This is a good store cupboard standby. Try to use the best olives you can find though as they make a big difference to this dish. Serves 4

Spaghetti with olives ingredients

Spaghetti with olives ingredients

  • 400g passata
  • 1 tablespoon of capers
  • 100g olives in brine, chopped, stones removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Oregano
  • Olive oil
  • 320g spaghetti
  1. Fry the onion in some olive oil.
  2. Add the passata, the olives and the capers. Season with salt and pepper and add a good pinch of oregano.
  3. Cook over a low heat for half an hour.
  4. Mix with the cooked pasta and serve.
Spaghetti with olives finished dish

Spaghetti with olives finished dish

Mackerel in tomato sauce

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
  1. In a pan big enough to accommodate the fish (a fish kettle would be ideal), soften the onions in half the olive.
  2. Add the carrots, garlic and parsley and fry for a further couple of minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the oil, 2 glasses of water and the passata. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Bring to a simmer and add the fish. If the fish isn’t covered by the liquid, add a little more hot water.
  5. Cover and cook until the mackerel are done, about 10 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool before serving. This dish is best served warm or cold.
  7. 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.

Mackerel in tomato sauce finished dish

Bucatini and Mussels all’Amatriciana

Bucatini e cozze all’amatriciana.  This is a new twist on the classic amatriciana. The addition of mussels works surprisingly well. It is adapted from “Sale e Pepe” which is something like the Italian equivalent of “Good Food Magazine”. The original recipe calls for guanciale, but as this is hard to find, even in Italy, this is my version using pancetta. Serves 4

Bucatini amatriciana with mussels ingredients

  • 320g bucatini or spaghetti
  • 1 kg mussels
  • 400g passata
  • A clove of garlic
  • 50g pancetta – cubed
  • 1/2 a glass of dry white wine
  • Pecorino romano cheese – grated
  • Chilli powder to taste
  • Olive oil
  1. Fry the pancetta in a little oil along with the whole garlic clove.
  2. When the garlic has browned, remove and discard.
  3. Add the chilli and fry for a few seconds.
  4. Add the passata and cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile put the mussels in a pan along with the wine and cook over a high heat until the mussels have opened. Drain and reserve the liquid.
  6. Shell the mussels, reserving a few for decoration.
  7. Pour the mussel liquid into a large pan and add water to make it up to about 3 litres. Bring to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
  8. Shorlty before the pasta is ready, add the mussels to the tomato sauce and allow to heat through for a minute or so.
  9. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with tomato sauce.
  10. Mix well and serve with the pecorino on the side.

Bucatini amatriciana with mussels finished dish

Spaghetti with Prawns and Courgettes

Spaghetti zucchine e gamberetti. I cooked this to use up the leftover prawns from yesterday’s trip to the  fish market. Serves 4.

Spaghetti with prawns and courgettes ingredients

  • 320g spaghetti
  • 300g medium prawns, legs and antenae removed.
  • 1tbsp capers – soaked for a few minutes and drained.
  • 3 small or 1 large courgette -sliced thinly into rounds or quartered lengthways and sliced into quadrants if large.
  • 1/2 onion sliced
  • Tomato sauce or passata
  • A pinch of dried thyme
  • Olive oil
  1. Fry the onion gently in the oil until it starts to soften.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, the capers and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile fry the courgettes gently in olive oil until soft. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the prawns to the tomato sauce and cook for a further few minutes until the prawns are cooked.
  5. At the last minute add the courgetttes to the sauce.
  6. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente.
  7. Dress the pasta with the sauce and serve.

Spaghetti with prawns and courgettes finished dish

The best baked ziti ever!

puglia crestIMHO :-) Pasta al forno Pugliese. Baked pasta is popular all over Italy. This version comes from Puglia. It uses Scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella. If you can’t find scamorza you can use mozzarella, but make sure it’s not too fresh as it will make the dish too wet. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be a problem outside Italy ;-) It is traditionally made with pecorino, but nowadays most people use parmesan. There is a lighter meatless version that leaves out the meatballs. Thanks to Grazia and Tiziana for the advice. Serves 6

Baked ziti ingredients

Baked ziti ingredients

  • 500g mezzi ziti or rigatoni
  • 200g scamorza cheese, finely diced
  • 50g pecorino Romano or parmesan
  • 800g passata
  • 1 onion
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the meatballs:

Meatballs ingredients

Meatballs ingredients

  • 250g minced beef
  • 50g pecorino Romano or parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 medium eggs
  • sprig of parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
    • Make a tomato sauce by frying the onion for a few minutes in plenty of olive oil. Add the passata, season and cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
    • Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients together. Form into small balls about the size of a hazelnut. Fry in olive oil until well browned. Drain on kitchen paper.
  • fried meatballs

    fried meatballs

    • Boil the pasta until it is very al dente, two or three minutes less than the usual cooking time.  Dress with a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce and half the parmesan.
    • To assemble the dish take a high sided baking tray and put a layer of the pasta in the bottom. Cover with tomato sauce and sprinkle with meatballs, diced scamorza, and parmesan.
  • partially assenbled dish

    partially assenbled dish

  • Continue until you have used up all the pasta. The last layer should be pasta covered with tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with parmesan
  • Assembled dish
  • Bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes.
Baked ziti

Baked ziti