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
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.
Coniglio alla Cacciatore or Huntsman’s Rabbit. When I lived in Bergamo the Sunday lunch was usually roast rabbit with polenta. I was regularly woken at seven in the morning by my neighbour grinding his polenta under my bedroom window. I’m sure he did it on purpose (we didn’t get on that well 😉 ) I see that rabbit is coming back into fashion in the UK, so I thought I’d share this recipe. It’s not roast rabbit, but another common Bergamasco dish. You can use any type of mushroom, even porcini if your bank balance will stand it. Serves 4
Rabbit with mushrooms ingredients
1 rabbit cut into portions
400 g mushrooms
100 g passata
1 stick celery
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp flour
100 ml chicken stock
1 glass dry white wine
5 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Chop the carrot and celery into small strips and thinly slice the onion.
Add to a pan with 3 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a medium heat until the onions start to go translucent.
Add the rabbit pieces and brown. Sprinkle them with the flour.
Thinly slice the mushrooms and sautè them in a separate pan with the rest of the olive oil and the whole, lightly crushed clove of garlic. Cook until they are well coloured and start to give off their juice.
Add to the pan with the rabbit and add the wine. Cook over a high heat until the wine has reduced by half.
Add the passata and stock, season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about and hour over a low to medium heat.
Salsicce al pomodoro. This is a great way to turn the humble banger into something special. Use the best quality sausage you can find – at least 90% meat. This dish is often made with chipolatas and served cold as an antipasto. Serves 4.
Sausages in tomato sauce ingredients
8 sausages (preferably Italian but any high meat content sausage will do)
100 milliliters dry white wine
250 milliliters passata
salt and pepper
Prick the sausages with a fork, put the in a pan and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a low heat, turning occasionally. When the water has evaporated the sausages will start to fry in their own fat. Continue until they are golden brown.
Add the wine and cook until it is completely evaporated and the sausages are just starting to fry again.
Add the passata, season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.
This dish can be cooked with small sausages and served cold as an antipasto.
Cozze ripiene. From Bari. This recipe was given to me by Marilisa – thanks a lot for taking the trouble. They were delicious 🙂 It’s actually her granny’s recipe and Marilisa’s favourite. The recipe seems a bit daunting as you have to open the raw mussels, but it’s really not that difficult. Follow the link below if you want to know how. Serves 4-5
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.