Rabbit with polenta

Polenta cuni finished dish

Polenta cuni finished dish

bergamo crestFrom Bergamo. Polenta e cüní. This is the most common Sunday lunch in Bergamo, and is one of the dishes I miss from my time living there. The are many variations on the recipe. This one comes from Slow Food Italy.  Serves 4

Polenta cuni ingredients

Polenta cuni ingredients

  • 1 rabbit, cut into portions
  • 50g lardo, guanciale or fatty pancetta
  • 100g butter
  • 2 glasses of dry white wine (Slow Food recommends Valcalepio)
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 clove

Put the rabbit in a pan large enough to contain it in a single layer. Place over a high heat for a few minutes to completely dry out the pieces.

Polenta cuni lardo

Polenta cuni lardo

Reduce the heat a little and add the lardo, butter, clove and sage. Brown the meat.

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Add the wine and let it evaporate, stirring from time to time.

Polenta cuni with wine

Polenta cuni with wine

Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue cooking until the rabbit is tender. There shouldn’t be a lot of liquid while it’s cooking, but if it looks like drying out, add a little stock. The cooking time will vary according to the rabbit, but it will be at least two hours, maybe longer.

About five minutes from the end of cooking, add the remaining butter and the chopped rosemary. The rabbit should be quite dry, almost crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside.
Serve it with polenta made according to the instructions on the packet. If I don’t have a polenta machine available to stir it, I usually use the quick cooking variety. A lot of Bergamasci regard this as a heinous crime though 🙂

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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

Potato pizza with ham and spinach

Potato pizza finished dish

Potato pizza finished dish

Bari crestPizza di patate e prosciutto. From Bari. This is a more complicated version of the traditional potato “pizza”.  They call it a pizza here, but that name is quite confusing as it does not contain any bread or flour. To confuse matters further it is also known as Torta di patate or Gateau di patate in various regions. It is basically a potato pie filled with ham and spinach. The ham can easily be left out to make it vegetarian (if you are careful about what cheese you use of course). It can be eaten warm or cold and will keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. It also freezes well. Serves about 8 as a main course.

Potato pizza ingredients

Potato pizza ingredients

  • 1.2 kg floury potatoes.
  • 250g scamorza, provola or mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced.
  • 500g fresh spinach
  • 150g cooked ham
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 70g grated parmesan
  • Dry bread crumbs
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Nutmeg 

Cook the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water. Drain and peel when cool enough to handle.

Potato pizza cooking potatoes

Potato pizza cooking potatoes

Mash the potatoes and mix with the egg yolks and parmesan.

Potato pizza mixed with cheese

Potato pizza mixed with cheese

Fry the whole garlic clove for a few minutes in a little olive oil. Remove and add the spinach. There should be enough water clinging to the leaves after washing. Add a little salt and couple of grates of nutmeg. Cook over a medium heat until the spinach has completely wilted. Leave to cool and squeeze out as much water as possible.

Potato pizza cooking spinach

Potato pizza cooking spinach

Grease a 24cm cake tin and dust with bread crumbs. Use 2/3 of the potato to make the base of the pizza. Build up the sides a little to contain the filling. Add the spinach.

Potato pizza with spinach

Potato pizza with spinach

Add the ham

Potato pizza with ham

Potato pizza with ham

Cover with the cheese

Potato pizza with cheese

Potato pizza with cheese

Close the pizza with the remaining 1/3 of the potato. Cover the top with bread crumbs and dot liberally with knobs of butter.

Potato pizza ready for the oven

Potato pizza ready for the oven

Bake in an oven preheated to 200°c for 50 minutes.

Rice Croquettes

Rice croquettes finished dish

Rice croquettes finished dish

puglia crestFrom 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
  • 2 eggs
  • 40g buttter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • Bread crumbs
  • Oil for frying
Rice croquettes ingredients

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

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

Rice croquettes ready to fry

Coat them in breadcrumbs and deep fry them in hot oil until golden.

Figs and ham

figs and ham rose

figs and ham rose

Roselline di prosciutto crudo su fichi. Melon and raw ham is just about ubiquitous in Italian restaurants outside of Italy, and it’s pretty common here too.  When they are in season it is very common in Bari to pair ham with figs. In my opinion it is an even better match than melon. There are two ways to present them.“Little roses” looks very nice and is very easy to do. Cut the figs into four lengthways, but don’t cut all the way through. Take a slice of raw ham and twist it around two fingers to form a nest. Open the nest up and place it in the centre of the fig. The other way is to cut the figs completely into four and wrap each piece in ham. The second way doesn’t look so nice, but is easier to eat. I also use other types of cured meats or salumi , for example I especially like using Mortadella.

A note about prosciutto.

The English language is one of the great borrowers. We have taken words from almost every other language on Earth. They don’t always retain exactly the same meaning as in the original language. One example of this is prosciutto. In Italian it means “ham”. This can be leg of pork, cooked ham or raw ham. In English it has come to mean specifically raw ham, or prosciutto crudo in Italian. So when you see a sign for prosciutto ham you are in fact seeing a sign for ham ham. Another example of this is the panino roll. Shall I go into my local salumeria and ask for some ham ham to put into my roll roll? Oh well, I’m off to do a bit of footing now…

figs and ham wrapped

figs and ham wrapped

Ricotta and mozzarella pizza

Pizza mozzarella e ricotta. From Puglia. This was cooked for me last week by the mother of a student. Hers of course was better, but mine wasn’t bad either 🙂 It is called a pizza here, but it is actually a type of pie or calzone. Serves 6

Update: Mrs C Looked at the recipe and said it is slightly different than the one she uses. She adds 100 g of salami or 100g of mixed mortadella and ham cut into small cubes. She uses nutmeg instead of pepper and gives the dough 1 hour to rise. Finally, she doesn’t drizzle olive oil on the top. Many thanks.

Ricotta pizza ingredients

Ricotta pizza ingredients

Pastry for stuffed pizzas

  • 500 g 00 flour
  • 1/2 cube of fresh yeast (or 1 packet of dried)
  • 50 cc olive oil
  • 200 ml milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Dissolve the yeast in the tepid milk
  2. Mix together the flour, olive oil, salt and enough of the milk to form a smooth dough.
  3. Knead for about 10 minutes.
  4. The dough doesn’t require much rising. Just leave it to rest for half an hour.
  • 500 g ricotta
  • 200 g mozzarella cut into small cubes
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp grated parmesan
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Make the filling by beating the ricotta until it is smooth then mix in the mozzarella, eggs and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Roll out half the dough so that it is a little bigger than the pizza tin. Oil the tin and put the base of the pizza into it. Push the dough down with your fingers to exclude as much air as possible.
  3. Spread the filling inside the tin. Roll out the rest of the dough until it is a little bigger than the tin. Cover the pie with the base. Pinch together and then fold over and crimp the edges.
  4. Drizzle a little olive oil over the surface and make some air holes with a fork.
  5. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 40 minutes.
Ricotta pizza finished dish

Ricotta pizza 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