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

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Risi e bisi

Venezia crestIf you prepare this on April 25, you will be carrying on an ancient tradition that dates from the days of the Republic of Venice. This springtime dish of creamy rice and peas is made in Venice and its surroundings area to celebrate the feast day of its patron, Saint Mark. Almost the consistency of a soup, risi e bisi should be served as a course of its own. In the past, risi e bisi was presented on Saint Mark’s Day with much ceremony to the doge, the leader of Venice. You can streamline this dish by using small frozen peas.
Serves 6

  • 500g risotto rice
  • 700g fresh peas (unshelled weight), shelled
  • 80g butter
  • 40g pancetta, cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • parsley to taste, finely chopped
  • 60g parmesan cheese
  • stock (vegetable or chicken)
  1. Fry the onion, pancetta and parsley in half the butter. When the onions start to colour, add the peas and cook for a further 5 minutes
  2. Add a couple of ladles of hot stock and bring to the boil. Add the rice and stir.
  3. Continue in the usual way for risotto – note: use more stock than for a standard risotto. The finished dish should be quite sloppy – almost like a soup.
  4. When the rice is cooked al dente remove from the heat. Adjust salt and pepper, stir in the parmesan and the rest of the butter. Serve immediately

Giorgio Mantello used the picture above to illustrate an article on his site a cena da Giorgio. This is a translation of his comments:

I chose this image because it shows excellently  what should be the consistency of the risotto – neither too thick nor too liquid – in Venice is said to be “moeche”. which translates as soft and a little sticky. enjoy!

Easter lamb

Easter lamb

Easter lamb

puglia crestAgnello di Pasqua. This is another Pugliese dish. Very young ‘suckling’ lamb with eggs and peas. It will be difficult to find agnello di latte outside of Italy, but spring lamb will do just as well. You’ll probably need your butcher’s help to cut the leg into slices.Serves 6

Lamb with peas ingredients

Lamb with peas ingredients

  • 1kg leg of spring lamb (or other cuts), cut into 2cm slices through the bone.
  • 500g very young fresh peas (unshelled weight)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 medium  eggs
  • 50g pecorino, grated
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • plenty of olive oil
  • plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley

In an oven proof dish, soften the onion in the olive oil.

Lamb with peas frying onions

Lamb with peas frying onions

Add the lamb pieces and fry until well sealed. Add the wine, cover and transfer to an oven preheated to 180°C

Lamb with peas browning meat

Lamb with peas browning meat

Cooking time will depend on the lamb, so a bit of guesswork will be involved. When the lamb is about 3/4 done, add the peas.
Mix together the eggs, parsley and pecorino. When the lamb is cooked, pour over the egg mixture. Leave for a couple of minute until the eggs have set and serve.