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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Neapolitan meatloaf – Authentic recipe

Napoli crestPolpettone alla napoletana. This is a tasty and economical recipe. In Naples it is also known as ‘polpettone in salsetta’ – meatloaf in sauce. The sauce is used to dress pasta for the first course and the meat is eaten as the second course. The recipe calls for buffalo mozzarella and Neapolitan salami, but I’m sure it would be fine with whatever you have handy. Thank to Gino for the advice. Serves 4-6.

Meatloaf ingredients

Meatloaf ingredients

  • 500g minced beef
  • 4 eggs
  • 50g cooked ham (about 2 slices)
  • 50g Neapolitan salami (optional)
  • 40g parmesan, grated
  • 40g pecorino, grated
  • 50g buffalo mozzarella, sliced (not too fresh)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, whole but lightly crushed
  • Flour
  • 100g stale bread
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 50g concentrated tomato puree
  • A large sprig of basil, torn
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hardboil 2 of the eggs and allow them to cool.Slice them thinly.
  • Moisten the bread with a little cold water and break into small pieces.
  • Mix together the meat, the raw eggs, the bread, the parmesan, the pecorino and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Knead with your hands until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Spread the paste on a square of kitchen paper to form a 2cm thick rectangle.  Cover with the slices of ham, the salami, the mozzarella and the sliced eggs.
Meatloaf with filling

Meatloaf with filling

    • Using the kitchen paper to help, roll up, pressing together firmly, to form the meatloaf.
meatloaf ready to cook

meatloaf ready to cook

    • Dust with flour and fry the loaf in olive oil in a large pan until it is browned on all sides. Lower the heat, cover and continue cooking for 30 minutes.
    • In a seperate pan, fry the garlic for a few minutes in 3 tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the tomato puree mixed with a little water, the basil and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes.
    • Add the tomato sauce to the meatloaf and cook for a further 30 minutes.
    • When the meatloaf is cooked, remove it from the sauce and allow it to cool slightly. Slice into 1-2cm slices and serve with a little of the tomato sauce.
Meatloaf with tomato sauce

Meatloaf with tomato sauce

Spaghetti with tuna

Spaghetti con il tonno. This is a good store cupboard standby. Serves 4

Spaghetti with tuna ingredients

Spaghetti with tuna ingredients

  • 360 grams spaghetti
  • 1 clove garlic — peeled
  • 80 grams tin of tuna — drained and flaked
  • 3 tablespoons concentrated tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, cook until browned and remove and discard.
  2. Add the tuna and mix well.
  3. Loosen the tomato puree with a couple of tablespoons of warm water and add to the pan and stir well. Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve with the cooked spaghetti.
Spaghetti with tuna finished dish

Spaghetti with tuna finished dish

Ragu alla Bolognese – Authentic recipe

Bologna crestIn 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.

  • 400 grams fresh tagliatelle or fettucine
  • 300 grams minced beef – The recommended cut is thin flank aka skirt (finta cartella in Italian) but any good quality mince will do.
  • 150 grams unsmoked pancetta — minced very finely
  • 50 grams carrot — finely chopped or minced
  • 50 grams celery — finely chopped or minced
  • 50 grams onion — finely chopped or minced
  • 30 grams triple concentrated tomato purée(if using double concentrated, increase the quantity by about a third,  purée is known as “tomato paste” in the US)
  • 1/2 glass red or white wine
  • 180 ml fresh milk
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Fry the pancetta gently in a little olive oil until it starts to release its fat. Be careful not to burn.
  2. Add the vegetables and fry until the onions are transparent, stirring from time to time.
  3. Add the beef and cook until it is lightly browned. When it starts to make popping noises, it’s done.
  4. Add the tomato puree and the wine and mix well.
  5. Add the milk, little by little until it is completely absorbed.
  6. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook very slowly for 3 to 4 hours.
  7. Stir occasionally and if it looks like drying out, add a little more milk.
  8. Serve with Fettuccine or Tagliatelle (NOT Spaghetti!)
  9. Serve with Parmesan cheese on the side. Alternatively toss the pasta first in a little butter and then in Parmesan before adding the meat sauce.
  • Variation: The Academy allows the addition of Porcini mushrooms.
Bolognese finished dish

Bolognese finished dish

This is a more detailed explanation of the dish from Bologna Cooking School

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