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Eat Like Montalbano


Written by Linda SarrisPhotos by Anna Trifirò - LAND Collective

All 37 Montalbano episodes available!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Long time Detective Montalbano fans are well acquainted with Salvo’s passion for Sicilian cooking. Chef Linda Sarris, a professed Montalbano fan and bi-annual resident of Palermo, Italy, crafted this series of delicious recipes that will compel you to book your airfare to Sicily immediately. So, we encourage all of our fellow Montalbano fans to try these recipes at home and watch Montalbano in true Sicilian style! ~MHz Choice

One of the world’s most famous street food dishes is Sicily’s arancini, also known as rice croquettes. Salvo Montalbano treasures the ones made by his cook and housekeeper Adelina. Arancini are made with a base of saffron rice balls stuffed filling, breaded and fried until golden brown to resemble their namesake, small oranges. The saffron rice can be made especially for this recipe or as a way to use up leftover risotto from another meal. The traditional filling is made with a meat ragu that Montalbano says takes Adelina a full two days to prepare all of the ingredients. The real secret in the preparation of her ragu is the whole pieces of meat that break down as it slowly cooks in the sauce.

In Palermo and on the western part of Sicily, they are known as arancine, using a feminine name to relate to the small orange shape and color. On the eastern side of Sicily, specifically in Catania they call them arancini, a masculine name for rice balls that are shaped like a small cone to imitate the volcanic shape of Mt. Etna. The most common filling for arancini is a tomato-based meat ragu with green peas. Across Sicily, there are many creative options for the filling such as “al burro” with ham and bechamel, spinach and mozzarella, or sometimes even a sweet version with pistachio cream. In this recipe, we chose a less traditional filling of bitter greens with ragusano cheese for a great vegetarian option. Ragusano is an unpasteurized stretched-curd cows milk cheese from a special breed of Modicano cows in the southeast part of Sicily. A substitute for the ragusano cheese in this recipe could be a provolone or caciocavallo.

arancini 22

In one of the more famous Detective Montalbano stories, he turns down several invitations for New Year’s dinner in order to ring in the holiday at the home of his housekeeper, Adelina. He even dodges the opportunity to join his fiancée, Livia, for celebrations in Paris. For Montalbano, it’s all about Adelina’s menu – he knows she’ll be serving her famous arancini to celebrate the new year and the recent release of both her sons from prison. As usual, he gets swept away with a case on the night of the party. And in typical fashion, he’s more worried about missing the arancini rather than Adelina’s son’s possible involvement as a suspect in his criminal investigation. In the end, her son gets off the hook and Montalbano makes it back in time for the New Year’s Eve dinner, starring Adelina’s arancini in all their sumptuous glory. With napkins wrapped around each wondrous creation, everyone at the party eats with their hands and enjoys the juicy ragu filling pouring from Adelina’s legendary rice balls.

Preview - Detective Montalbano: Montalbano's Croquettes

ABOVE: Adelina prepares arancini in a scene from Detective Montalbano: Montalbano's Croquettes.

Recipe: Arancini

arancini 23

serves 4
preparation: 1 hour
cooking time: 15 minutes
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Ingredients for rice
1 small white onion, finely diced
1 1/2 c. arborio or carnaroli rice for risotto
1/2 c. white wine
2 packs of powdered saffron, or a small pinch of saffron threads
2 T. cold butter
4 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. grated parmigiano
sea salt + black pepper to taste

Ingredients for filling
1 bunch of bitter greens like chicory or escarole, washed and blanched in salted boiling water
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
lemon zest + juice
fine sea salt + peperoncino to taste
1 c. Ragusano cheese, cut into small cubes or finely grated

Ingredients for frying
2 c. water, in a small bowl
3 whole eggs, whisked
2 c. breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Start with the risotto rice so it has time to cool down before rolling up the arancini. In a wide flat-bottomed pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil on medium. Add the onion, cooking until softened and translucent. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable broth in a separate pot. Add all of the rice to the risotto pan and stir to coat with the oil and onions. Toast for a few minutes then add the white wine mixed with saffron to deglaze the pan. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom, allow the wine to absorb a little bit into rice and burn off the rest. Add one ladle of broth at a time until fully absorbed. Lower the heat to just simmering and always keep stirring. The whole process should take about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the butter and grated parmigiano. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Spread the saffron risotto onto a wide platter and let it cool down to room temperature.

For the bitter greens filling, wash the leaves and cook in a pot of salted boiling water. Strain the greens, roughly chop and squeeze out any extra water before sautéing in a pan with olive oil. Season the greens with salt, peperoncino and fresh lemon. To assemble the arancini, set up a few bowls on your work station: one bowl filled with cold water, one with the egg wash, and another with breadcrumbs. Wet your hands with the cold water and grab a small portion of rice. Give it a squeeze to press the rice together before pushing it down into a small patty in the palm of your hand. Add a scoop of your greens and cheese for the filling before closing your hand slowly to seal the filling into the middle and forming the rice into a ball. It helps to make a small assembly line here so you don’t have to keep washing your hands between rice and breadcrumb stages. Prep all of your stuffed rice balls on a tray then start the breading process. Dip the arancini into the egg wash then cover them with a coating of breadcrumbs. Gently squeeze them together so the breadcrumbs stick and there are no cracks or holes.

Prepare the oil to deep fry the arancini. In a wide pan, fill with at least two inches of vegetable oil for frying. Heat over a medium fire and slowly add the arancini to fry in the oil. Move them around to get an even golden color on all sides. When golden brown and crispy, blot the arancini on paper towels to remove some of the extra oil. Enjoy the arancini with your hands, this is street food after all.

Eat Like Montalbano Recipes

About the Chef
Linda Sarris is a food/wine travel consultant and private chef based in Palermo, Sicily. From her sun-lit kitchen studio above the 1,000 year-old Ballarò food market, Linda works as a freelance writer, social media manager, and culinary communications consultant while still traveling regularly for private chef work with clients in the fashion and music industries. Under her brand, @thecheekychef, she is self-publishing a Sicilian food and wine ‘zine and curates a series of Mediterranean culinary/lifestyle retreats and travel experiences. Her first book will be published in 2022 with Hachette Book Group.