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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake for 1 hour at 200°c. If the top starts to get too brown, cover it with aluminium foil.
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
In a pan big enough to accommodate the fish (a fish kettle would be ideal), soften the onions in half the olive.
Add the carrots, garlic and parsley and fry for a further couple of minutes.
Add the rest of the oil, 2 glasses of water and the passata. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer and add the fish. If the fish isn’t covered by the liquid, add a little more hot water.
Cover and cook until the mackerel are done, about 10 minutes.
Allow to cool before serving. This dish is best served warm or cold.
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.
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
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