Salvo Montalbano was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths for this Sicilian speciality. Make it for yourself and you’ll understand why.
Andrea Camilleri’s 1999 short story Gli arancini di Montalbano (from the collection of the same name, not translated) centres around the detective’s determination to spend New Year’s Eve at the home of Adelina, his housekeeper, who is preparing arancini to celebrate her reprobate sons’ release from prison. Such is Montalbano’s hunger for her unrivalled arancini that he lies to his girlfriend Livia, who has organised a romantic break in Paris; he lies to his boss; he plants evidence – all to get his fix of Adelina’s arancini. These little croquettes of rice and ragù are, Montalbano says, so delicious that even though he had only tasted them once, the memory had passed into his DNA, becoming part of his genetic material.
Here’s how the feisty housekeeper prepares Montalbano’s ill-gotten snack.
For the ragù
200g coarsely minced veal
200g coarsely minced pork
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
Small bunch parsley, chopped
Small bunch basil, chopped
400g tin plum tomatoes, chopped
Salt and black pepper
Make the ragù the day before you prepare the arancini – Adelina would have made hers on 30 December. Brown the mince well in a hot pan, then remove and add the butter, onion, celery and herbs, which make up a battuto – the backbone of so much Sicilian cooking. When the onion is soft, return the meat to the pan with the tomatoes and simmer gently for several hours, until you have a rich, red sauce. Season and refrigerate overnight.
For the risotto Milanese
1 onion, finely chopped
400g arborio rice
200ml dry white wine or vermouth
1 litre chicken stock
50g grated parmesan
2 egg yolks
Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook until soft and translucent. Then add the rice and cook for a few minutes before adding the wine and cooking until it is all absorbed. Add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring between each addition until the liquid is absorbed. (A traditional risotto Milanese would contain saffron too, but not Adelina’s arancini - “No saffron, for pity’s sake,” exhorts Montalbano.) When the rice is cooked – it should still have a slight bite to it – remove from the heat, add the parmesan and spread the rice out on a tray or on the worktop to cool. Then add the egg yolks and refrigerate until chilled.
For the béchamel
A few parsley stalks
A bay leaf
Half an onion
A few black peppercorns
15g plain flour
Salt and pepper
Place the milk, onion, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a pan and heat to a gentle simmer, then strain. Melt the butter and stir in the flour until smooth, before gradually adding the milk. Simmer for 20 minutes until thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and season.
To assemble the arancini
60g fresh or frozen peas, blanched
60g salami, chopped with a mezzaluna
40g plain flour
2 egg whites
2 litres groundnut oil for frying
Mix together the ragù, bechamel, peas and salami. Scoop some risotto into the palm of your hand and hollow it out into a bowl shape, placing a spoon of the ragù mixture into the centre and covering with more risotto to seal. Squeeze the ball in your hand until it feels firm. You can make the arancini the size and shape of small oranges, as the name suggests, or form a slight point at one end for a “volcano” shape, as Adelina does in the television adaptation of the story. Repeat until all the risotto and filling are used – the challenge is to get a high a quantity of meat to rice as you can! Roll each ball in flour, then egg white, then breadcrumbs, then deep-fry until golden and drain on paper towels.