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.
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.
Polpettone pugliese. This is another recipe that I cook a lot. Other recipes cook the meatloaf in a tomato sauce, but this one roasts it dry. It uses minced veal, but if you can’t find it then minced beef will be fine. Italians don’t use the crated “white” variety anyway, so the veal is very pink. This is often served with roast potatoes. Serves 6.
Polpettone alla napoletana. This is a tasty and economical recipe. In Naples it is also known as ‘polpettone in salsetta’ – meatloaf in sauce. The sauce is used to dress pasta for the first course and the meat is eaten as the second course. The recipe calls for buffalo mozzarella and Neapolitan salami, but I’m sure it would be fine with whatever you have handy. Thank to Gino for the advice. Serves 4-6.
Polpettone freddo con verdure. This is a really nice summery dish and would be perfect for a picnic. When I cooked it, I couldn’t find minced veal so I used 50/50 pork and beef with good results. Serves 4 hungry people as a main course. It could be used as an antipasto too.
3 large vine tomatoes (or 200g tinned chopped tomatoes, drained)
10 fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Wash and top and tail the beans. Peel the carrot and chop into batons. Parboil the veg in salted water for 3-4 minutes.
Mix together the meat, the eggs, half the clove of garlic (finely chopped), the marjoram, the ricotta and the grana. Season with salt and pepper.
Lay a piece of grease proof paper flat on the work surface. Spread the meat mixture out so that you get a rectangle about 2cm deep.
Arrange the vegetables on top and, using the paper to help, roll up to form a meatloaf (like you would for a swiss roll). Press together firmly and make sure the ends are closed.
Summer meatloaf ready to cook
Transfer to a baking tin, cover with foil and bake at 200°C for an hour. Remove the foil 15 minutes before the end of cooking to allow the loaf to brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Make the salsa by deseeding and chopping the tomatoes with the basil and the other 1/2 clove of garlic. Stir in the oil and season with salt and pepper.
When ready to serve, slice the meatloaf into 1-2cm rounds and spoon a little of the salsa onto each slice
IMHO 🙂 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
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.
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
Carpaccio Di Carne. The original version of this dish comes from Venice. According to Arrigo Cipriani, the present-day owner, Carpaccio was invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, where it was first served to the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950 when she informed the bar’s owner that her doctor had recommended she eat only raw meat. It consisted of thin slices of raw beef dressed with a mustard and mayonnaise sauce. The dish was named Carpaccio by Giuseppe Cipriani, the bar’s former owner, in reference to the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, because the colours of the dish reminded him of paintings by Carpaccio.This lighter version is far more common nowadays.
This is another recipe from Tiziana (many thanks). This one of the most common ‘Sunday lunches’ in Bari. I think it’s known as “Sunday gravy” in the Sates. The recipe doesn’t give very precise measurements as it depends how many people you are cooking for and your personal taste. As a rough guide allow 2-300g of meat per person. Tiziana usually serves the ragu with orecchiette, but you can use your favourite pasta. Serve the meat separately as the second course.
Ragu alla Barese ingredients
Thin slices of meat (you can use beef, veal, pork, or horse meat),flattened with meat mallet
Pieces of lamb (preferably on the bone)
Lardo(salted lard) or prosciutto fat or fatty pancetta
Chop together the lardo, parsley, garlic, pepper and pecorino to make a coarse paste.
Place a little of the paste in the middle of each slice of meat. Roll up and secure with a toothpick.
Take a large pan(NOT nonstick) and add the onion, some olive oil, the meat rolls, the lamb pieces and half a glass of water.
Cook over a high heat making sure that the meat catches on the bottom of the pan but doesn’t burn. Scrape the pan frequently with a wooden spoon. This is an important step as it contributes a lot of the flavour of the sauce.
Add the wine and allow to evaporate
Add enough passata to cover the meat well
Cook over a very low heat until the meat is tender. (A slow cooker would be ideal)
A few minutes before the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper.
For the best results, allow to cool, refrigerate over night and reheat the next day.
When you are ready to serve, remove the meat and keep warm.
Serve the sauce with pasta as the first course followed by the meat as the second course.
Brasato Al Barolo. From Piemonte. Barolo is the king of Italian wines. It’s also a bit pricey so I used a very nice Primitivo di Manduria instead. Don’t tell anyone 😉 This dish is often served with polenta.
Brasato al Barolo ingredients
1 kilogram piece breast of veal (or beef) — whole
30 grams butter
1 bottle Barolo (or other full bodied red wine)
1 medium onion — finely chopped
1 stick celery — finely chopped
1 medium carrot — finely chopped
1 stick cinnamon
3 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
2 cloves garlic
You will need a cooking pot that is suitable for slow cooking, Earthenware would be ideal.
Add the veal, onion, carrot, celery, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic to the cooking pot.
Pour on the wine, making sure that the meat is completely covered.
Brasato al Barolo marinating
Leave to marinate for at least 12 hours.
Remove the meat from the marinade (reserve) and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Heat the butter and olive oil in the cooking pot and fry the veal on all sides until it is well coloured and has a ‘crust’.
Re add the marinade.
Season, cover and cook over a very low heat for around 3 hours. Turn the meat from time to time (or baste with the sauce)
At the end of cooking remove the rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon and garlic.
Remove the meat and allow to rest before slicing. I prefer quite thick slices, but it’s more usual to make them quite thin.
If the sauce is still a bit thin, reduce over a high heat until it thickens. You can sieve or liquidize it to make a smoother sauce.
Polpettine al Sugo. A lot of people mistakenly think that this dish was invented in the USA, but although it’s not nearly as common here as it seems to be in the states, it is Italian through and through. It tastes even better heated up the next day. I served it with linguine(a bit of a crime: ragu should be served with a ribbon pasta such as tagliatelle) the first day and polenta the second, but it goes with pretty much every kind of pasta.
Mix together the beef, sausage, the breadcrumbs moistened in a little water, garlic and parsley in a bowl. I find it easiest to use my hands. When it is well mixed, season with salt and pepper and mix in the egg.
Form into small meatballs, about the size of a marble.
Fry the meatballs in plenty of olive oil until they are evenly browned. Drain on Kitchen towels.
Drain the excess oil from the pan, add the onions and fry for about 5 minutes over a medium heat.
Add the passata and basil, season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the meatballs and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Serve with your favourite pasta or with polenta.
Now I’ve been here a while I realise that I’ve been very English and got things a bit wrong. :hangs his head in shame: The recipe above is still authentic, but the Italians don’t serve the meatballs with the pasta. They are eaten as the secondo.
Maryann puts it better than I can(see comments):
I think why most people say spaghetti and meatballs originated in American is that they eat it all on the same plate, in the same course. In my family, first the macaroni, then the meat from the sauce.