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.
The Bellini is another one of those recipes which is far better known in the USA than it is in Italy. The original recipe is authentically Italian however. Barmen over the years have added various ingredients, peach schnapps etc., but the original is extremely simple, and in my opinion better. It was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the 1930s . It is named after Giovanni Bellini, a fifteenth century Venetian painter. Being Italian, it should be made with Prosecco, not Champagne, but you can use Champagne if you can’t find any of the good stuff 😉
Ripe white peaches (never yellow)
Prosecco (Spumante has more bubbles than Frizzante, use whichever you prefer)
Peel the peaches and remove the stones. The recommended method is to grate the flesh and then pass it through a sieve. I use a hand cranked food mill, sometimes known as a mouli. A food processor is said to aerate the purée too much. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add sugar or simple syrup at this stage.
Put the purée in the freezer until it is almost frozen, but still soft.
Bellini frozen peach purée
Put a few spoons of purée into an iced glass. You can use a straight glass, or a champagne flute. Top up with iced Prosecco. Gently stir to mix the two ingredients. The proportions should be one part peach to three parts Prosecco.
Zuppa di aglio. Versions of this soup exist all over the world. I used to live in the Czech Republic and česnečka was said to be a fantastic cure for a hangover 😉 It is best made with new season “wet” garlic, but regular dried garlic will give good results. Use very good stock, it will be so much better than cubes. It can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and a vegetarian cheese. Serves 4.
Simmer the garlic and potato in the stock for about 20 minutes. The garlic and potato should be very tender.
Liquidize until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side on both side of the toast. This will produce quite a strong garlic flavour, so be careful. If you prefer a mild flavour, leave out this step altogether.
Drizzle the toast with olive oil, put a slice into each bowl, pour the hot soup on top and sprinkle with parmesan.
From Puglia. Pettole are sweet or savoury doughnuts. In the region of Campania , and I believe the US, they are known as zeppole. Here in Puglia, zeppole refers to a cake traditionally eaten on St Joseph’s day. They are called pettole here in Puglia and some regions of Basilicata. They are traditionally eaten on St Martin’s day in Lecce (Nov 11), St Cecilia’s day in Taranto (Nov 22), Around the immaculate conception on the 7th and 8th of December in Brindisi, and Christmas Eve in Foggia. They are generally eaten during the Christmas period throughout the region. They can be prepared in two ways, sweet or savoury. The savoury version can be plain, or contain other ingredients, such as olives, cooked cauliflower, salt cod , sundried tomatoes and anchovies. The sweet versions are dredged in sugar and/or dipped in vincotto a sweet, concentrated grape juice produced in Puglia. Honey or jam are also common if you can’t find vincotto.
375 ml warm water
500 g oo flour
Half a block of fresh yeast or 3½ g dried
2 tsp of salt
Oil for deep frying
For the savoury version:- 10 olives, stoned and sliced into rings. Use black or green or a mixture of both.
For the sweet version:- Granulated sugar, vincotto or honey.
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix together the water and flour. Add the salt at the end of mixing. You should have a very wet dough. If you are making the savoury version, stir in the olives.
Pettole mixed dough
Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours.
Pettole ready to cook
Wet your hands and scoop up about a tablespoon of dough and deep fry until it is lightly brown. You will need to turn them halfway through cooking. Drain on kitchen paper.
If you are making the sweet version, dredge each pettole in sugar and serve with a dish of vincotto or honey to dip them in.
Fry the whole clove of garlic and the finely chopped onion gently in a little olive oil. After a few minutes, when the clove is lightly brown, remove it and discard. Add the chard and marjoram if used. Season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for a few minutes until the chard is completely wilted. You don’t have to add any water, the water left clinging to the leaves after washing should be enough.
Swiss chard frittata wilting chard
Allow to cool and squeeze out as much water as possible. Mix together the lightly beaten eggs, the chard and the cheese.
Swiss chard frittata ready to cook
Heat a large frying pan to a medium. Add a couple of table spoons of oil an add the egg mixture. Fry until the top has started to set.
Swiss chard frittata ready to turn
Flip the frittata by placing a large plate on top. Turn out onto the plate and then slide back into the pan. Finish off for a couple of minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.
Pasta cresciuta. From Naples. My local pizzaria here in Bari is Neapolitan and cooks what the locals regard as “thick” pizzas. The Barese go there when they want some foreign food 🙂 They also cook a few specialities from Naples, such as arancini and this dish. Pasta cresciuta means “grown dough”, because the batter contains yeast. You can cook them without a filling, or with some of the more traditional ones such as courgette flowers or anchovies. Alternatively experiment with what you have to hand. The batter will make about 60-80 pieces.
Mixed fritters ingredients
Sun-dried tomato halves, soaked to soften
Courgette (Zucchini) flowers picked over to make sure they don’t contain any insects etc.
Large sage leaves
Oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but sunflower oil is acceptable)
For the batter
1 cube of fresh yeast
320ml lukewarm water
300g oo flour
A pinch of salt
First make the batter. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Beat it with a whisk until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours to rise. It should about double in size.
Mixed fritters batter
Heat a pan full of oil to a medium heat, about 180°c. If the oil is too hot the fritters will be raw on the inside and burnt on the the outside. If the temperature is too low they will be soggy. A litte experimentation may be needed to get it right.
Mixed fritters cooking
To make plain fritters, drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Cook until they are lightly browned, turning once. You are aiming to keep a reasonably soft texture. Think savory doughnuts. Drain on kitchen paper. Dip the various fillings into the batter and continue as before.
They are best eaten hot, but may also be eaten cold.
Pizza 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
1.2 kg floury potatoes.
250g scamorza, provola or mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced.
Cook the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water. Drain and peel when cool enough to handle.
Potato pizza cooking potatoes
Mash the potatoes and mix with the egg yolks and parmesan.
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
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
Add the ham
Potato pizza with ham
Cover with the 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
Bake in an oven preheated to 200°c for 50 minutes.