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.
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.
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
Fresh filled pasta takes a bit of time to prepare, but it’s really not that difficult, especially if you have a pasta machine. Ravioli are probably the least fiddly to make, but tortellini look more impressive 😉 . Once you’ve made the first couple it gets easier. This recipe comes from Accademia Italiana della cucina. It was registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on the 7th of December 1974. An authentic tortellino bolognese must have the following filling. Makes about 800g or 100 tortellini.
100g loin of pork
100g mortadella sausage (It MUST come from Bologna of course 🙂 )
100g parma ham (actually, they don’t specify that it has to come from Parma.It seems any raw ham will do)
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
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.
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.
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.
It may be difficult to find Italian sausages outside of Italy. This needn’t be a problem as they are usually 100% minced meat, encased in a sausage skin. Therefore, if you can’t find Italian sausage, replace it with minced pork. This is another of the recipes that I remember from my time in the north. Very easy to cook but delicious! Serves 4