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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Stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

Involtini di verza. This is a good winter dish. There are many versions, but I prefer this one because the stuffing is not so heavy as it contains rice and chopped cabbage rather than all meat. It can be served as an antipasto or a second course, but it is quite substantial, so it is probably better as a second course. Serves 6

  • 1l vegetable stock
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 head of savoy cabbage
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 80g grated parmesan
  • 280g risotto rice
  • 350g sausages, skinned
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 200ml white wine

To cook

  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp parmesan

Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.

stuffed cabbage removing stalk

stuffed cabbage removing stalk

Blanch the leaves in abundant boiling water. Take 150g of the more tender centre of the cabbage and chop finely.

stuffed cabbage cooking filling

stuffed cabbage cooking filling

Melt the butter in a pan and fry the carrot, celery and onion gently for about 15 minutes. Be careful that they do not brown. Increase the heat and add the rice and “toast” for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine, the sausage and the chopped cabbage. Stirring constantly wait until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of the hot stock and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Continue using the standard risotto method until the rice is cooked. Mix in the parmesan.

stuffed cabbage filling rolls

stuffed cabbage filling rolls

Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.

stuffed cabbage filled roll

stuffed cabbage filled roll

Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.

stuffed cabbage ready for the oven

stuffed cabbage ready for the oven

Cover the base of a casserole with little olive oil and half a ladle stock. Arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the dish with melted butter and parmesan.

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, finish off under the grill for 5 minutes. Let the rolls rest for 10 minutes and the serve.

Rice Croquettes

Rice croquettes finished dish

Rice croquettes finished dish

puglia crestFrom Puglia. This is a puglian version of the more well known Sicilian dish arancini. It is very simple to make however. There are versions that use other chesses and cured meats, but this one uses the easily available (abroad I mean) salami, ham and mozzarella. Serves at least 6 as an antipasto.

  • 400g risotto rice
  • 100g sliced salami (Milanese or similar)
  • 100g sliced cooked ham
  • 200g mozzarella cut into small cubes
  • 40g grated parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 40g buttter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • Bread crumbs
  • Oil for frying
Rice croquettes ingredients

Rice croquettes ingredients

Boil the rice in plenty of salted water until done, about 10 minutes. Drain and add the butter. You could substitute vegetable stock for the water if you prefer. Allow to cool completely. You can prepare it the day before if you like.

Roughly chop the salami and ham. Combine with the rice, the mozzarella, the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and finally add the eggs and mix well.

Rice croquettes formed

Rice croquettes formed

Form the mixture into cigar shapes, about 50g each. I find it easiest to use my hands.

Rice croquettes ready to fry

Rice croquettes ready to fry

Coat them in breadcrumbs and deep fry them in hot oil until golden.

Osso bucco with risotto

Ossobucco finished dish

Ossobucco finished dish

MilanoOssibuchi con il risotto. From Milan. Veal has gone out of fashion in the UK at the moment. It never did in the Italy because they don’t use the “crate” method. Italians are more practical when it comes to food. The aversion to “white” veal has nothing to do with ethics, it doesn’t taste as nice. This is one of the most famous Italian veal dishes. In my opinion the best bit of the dish is the marrow, which I always save until the end. Serves 4.

Ossobucco finished dish

Ossobucco finished dish

  • 4 slices of veal shank with the bone in the centre (ossibuchi)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • optional: 1 small stick of celery
  • 30g butter
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Plain flour for dusting
  • Parsley
  • The zest of half a lemon
  • Dry white wine
  • A little beef stock.

For the risotto

  • 320g risotto rice
  • 1 small glass of dry white wine
  • 50g butter
  • 1 small onion
  • 1.5 litres of beef stock
  • 1 sachet of saphron
  • 4 tablespoons of grana padano
  1. Fry the onion (and the celery if used) and the whole garlic clove, over a low heat, for a few minutes in the butter until softened.  Remove the garlic before serving( if you want a stronger garlic flavour, chop the clove and fry it along with the onion).
  2. Lightly flour the veal slices and add them to the onions. Fry them on both sides until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to disturb the marrow in the centre of the bone.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the glass of wine. Let it almost completely evaporate.
  4. Add a ladle of hot stock, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes until tender.
  5. Cook the risotto using the usual method, adding the saffron along with the last ladle of stock.
  6. When the veal is cooked add the chopped lemon zest, half a clove of chopped garlic(optional) and chopped parsley (gremolata) and serve on top of the risotto.

Red wine risotto

Risotto al Vino Rosso. You need to use a good, full bodied red wine – the best you can afford. The basic rule applies. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it 🙂 I used a Primitivo di Maduria , but next time I’m flush, I’ll try it with a Barolo.

Red wine risotto ingredients

Red wine risotto ingredients

Serves 4

  • 400g risotto rice
  • 2 glasses full bodied red wine
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • About 1 1/2 litres vegetable sock
  • 40g parmesan, grated
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Fry the onion in the olive oil until they start to become transparent.
  2. Add the rice and stir for few moments.
  3. Add the red wine and cook over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until the wine has been absorbed.
  4. Add a ladle of hot stock and continue cooking as per the standard risotto recipe.
  5. When the rice is cooked al dente , remove from the heat, season and stir in the butter and parmesan.
  6. Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving.
Red wine risotto

Red wine risotto

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!

Tiella of potatoes, rice and mussels – Authentic recipe

Bari crestTiella di patate, riso e cozze. Tiella alla Barese. Riso patate cozze. Finally the definitive recipe! This recipe was given to me by Tiziana who is one of the best cooks in Bari (or so her friend Rosa tells me 😉 ) Many thanks Tiziana. It uses mussels which have been opened when they are still raw. My fish monger did this for me, but in the UK you’ll probably have to do this yourself. Here’s a link to show you how. Good luck 🙂
Serves 6
Tiella ingredients

Tiella ingredients

  • 1.5kg potatoes, sliced
  • 300g risotto rice, soaked in cold water
  • 1kg mussels, opened on the half shell – reserve the liquid
  • onions, sliced
  • olive oil
  • garlic, chopped
  • parsley, chopped
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • pecorino Romano, grated
  • parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper
  1. Assemble the tiella as follows in an ovenproof dish, preferably terracotta
  2. A layer of onions drizzled with oil
  3. A layer of potatoes seasoned with garlic, tomatoes, parsley, sat and pepper, cheese. Drizzle with oil
  4. A layer of mussels seasoned with garlic and parsley. Drizzle with oil
  5. Drain the rice and distribute it over the mussels. Season with garlic, tomatoes, parsley, sat and pepper, cheese. Drizzle with oil
  6. A layer potatoes.
  7. Add the water reserved when you opened the mussels. Add water so that the final layer of potatoes is just covered
  8. Cover tightly (maybe with alumnium foil) and bake at 180°C for up to two hours. Test from time to time with a skewer.
  9. Uncover for the last 20 minutes of cooking to brown the top.
Tiella finished dish

Tiella finished dish