Monday, 7 May 2012

Cooking courses in Sicily: On the trail of Montalbano, the Sicilian Detective

A cappuccino followed by morning dip in the sea outside his villa; duskily beautiful women, handsome young men, stunning scenery, and a crime of passion solved; some fabulous Italian cuisine and glass of wine to finish...

It’s just another day at the office for dashing detective Salvo Montalbano. To many a cooking course student in Sicily, not to mention hard-pressed police officers in Britain filling out morepaperwork in a drab station over a sandwich, Montalbano’s life must seem a fantasy.

Which of course it is: the creation of Sicilian writer Andrea Camilleri. But – with nearly twenty best-selling novels to date and an international hit TV series ongoing, now familiar to BBC4 viewers – the fractious but brilliant and uncorruptible food-lover Commissario Montalbano has become one of the world’s most popular sleuths.

Sicily has been quick to celebrate Montalbano. Those wanting to follow in his footsteps – and meals – will find a warm welcome. ‘Vigàta’, his fictional home town, is based on Camilleri’s birthplace of Porto Empedocle – abandoned factories, chic cafes, lighthouse and all. With an eye for TV-tourism, the town has now officially renamed itself ‘Porto Empedocle Vigàta’!

‘Montelusa’, the location of his office, was based on real-life Agrigento (the Questura and Piazza San Francesco) – though the TV filming is done in Ragusa, which will look very familiar to viewers. Ragusa is a Sicilian gem,a Word Heritage Site in two parts: the stunning new baroque town, rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake; and, over a ridge, quieter, atmospheric Ibla. The town of Modica, another Montalbano haunt nearby, is another World Heritage Site, and another two-part town, with a historic centre connected to the lower town by a flight of steps.

Montalbano’s idyllic seaside house, verandah and all, is in Porto Secca, a fishing village just southeast of Ragusa. When they’re not filming another dining scene here, or the Commissario answering the phone with stubbly impatience, you can stay here for bed and breakfast.

Following trails is, of course, hungry work. Foodies have compiled whole recipe books based on Montalbano books and films (I segreti della tavola di Montalbano – ‘Secrets of Montalbano’s Table’, for instance) and bloggers describe dinner parties that recreate some of the detective’s favourite dishes. Here’s a sample menu:
Caponata di melanzane 
Pasta col ragù alla siciliana 
‘mpanata di maiali 
Peperoni arrosto 
Sformatino di cioccolato amaro con salsa all’arancia 

Tracking down the killer isn’t always easy. Fortunately for fans of Montalbano – or simply fans of good Italian food – tracking down his favourite places, and recipes, is rather easier.

No comments: