Andrea Calogero Camilleri, a Sicilian director and author, born 6 September 1925; died 17 July 2019.
The entire nation is in mourning: RAI 1 news, the state broadcaster, dedicated 80 per cent of its time slot to this news; writers, intellectuals and the highest representatives of the Italian state have expressed their condolences. Even his arch-enemy, Matteo Salvini, minister of the interior and leader of the xenophobic Northern League party — with whom Camilleri had several heated exchanges over the years — has paid tribute to the popular Sicilian writer.
The paragraph above is from an article published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on July 20. It is written by Barbara Pezzotti, a lecturer in Italian Studies at Monash University. She is the author of three monographs dedicated to Italian crime fiction and has extensively published on Andrea Camilleri.
Camilleri perhaps is best known for his Montalbano novels and has become one of the most-loved crime fiction writers in the world. Camilleri’s books have been published worldwide and translated into 32 languages, including Catalan and Gaelic. The highly successful TV series, inspired by Montalbano’s books became an international success and was broadcast in Australia by SBS. I am sure that the scenes of beautiful Sicily in the series have encouraged many travellers.
There have been many items from around the world in praise of Camilleri and the character Inspector Montalbano, who not only fight the Mafia and solves crimes is also a lover of good food and when Andrea Camilleri died last week, one of my relatives in Ragusa, Sicily sent me an article from Ragusa News, an on-line publication that covers news and interest stories from the Ragusa Province and nearby towns – Vittoria, Modica, Comiso, Scicli, Pozzallo and Ispica.
The article is called Domenica a pranzo onoriamo Camilleri con la pasta ‘Ncasciata (On Sunday for lunch let us honour Camilleri with pasta Ncasciata).
Sunday lunch is still an important family occasion in Sicily and pasta ‘Ncasciata is an Sicilian, oven baked pasta dish and one of Montalbano’s favorite things to eat. It is prepared for him by his housekeeper, Adelina. (Place above is where Montalbano lives in the TV series.
Camilleri in his Montalbano series of books describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.
There are many versions of pasta ‘Ncasciata in Sicily, with different combinations of ingredients but the most noteworthy one is from Messina and the recipe in this article appears to be the Messinese version and is made with commercial, short shaped pasta in layers dressed with tomato meat sauce, mortadella or salami, fried eggplant, caciocavallo cheese, salami and hardboiled eggs. Although I have eaten pasta ‘Ncasciata, I have never liked the sound of this dish and have never made it.
Apart from Pasta ‘Ncasciata, Montalbano has other favourites and obviously I like them too as I have written them in my blog and my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
Time and time again I am asked what am I cooking for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. The answer is that I do not know yet. I can say is that on Christmas eve I like to eat fish as is traditionally observed in Italy and on Christmas day I usually cook something that I do not normally cook or have not cooked for a while, for example for first course I may cook Spaghetti/ Pasta with sea urchin (ricci) or bottarga or squid with black ink or crayfish or crab.( SEE links to recipes at the bottom of this post.)
Traditionally my immediate family always ate brodo (broth) on Christmas day and lately I have been thinking about something that I have not made since 1984. I know it is this date because the recipe was in a book which was published in 1984 andI bought it the year it was published = Giuliano Bugialli, The Taste Of Italy.
And so the other night when I pulled out of my freezer some strong duck broth, I decided to experiment with making some home-made pasta cut into squares with parsley embedded in the centre. I had made it many years ago on several occasions . Only my daughter was coming for dinner, so if the results were not satisfacory, it did not matter so much. I am always in a hurry (I once had a friend who used to call me (Ms sempre in fretta – always in a hurry) and had no time to find the recipe. Besides I could not remember what the recipe was called or in in which Bugialli book would I find it, so I just went ahead and made it.
Because there were just the three of us eating the brodo I only wanted to make small amounts and use a rolling pin; there was no way I wanted to get out/ dirty/ and clean my pasta rolling machine….I was in a hurry.
And it was great. How could I go wrong? It is just homemade pasta with whole parsley leaves added to the dough. The parsley pasta is then cut into squares. The thinly rolled pasta with the whole parsley leaves are very attractive and resemble embroidery.
I had some asparagus (now in season) and I wanted to add a light summery feel to the brodo. Perfect for an Australian Christmas?
I found the recipe and not surprisingly Bugialli calls them Quadrucci – small squares. A quadro is Italian for square.
In Bugialli’s recipe, he suggests making the broth with Turkey- meat and bones. My duck stock was made with the carcase/carcass of a duck – I had removed the breast and legs for another dish.
WHAT I DID
good meat broth, fat skimmed off, solids passed through a fine mesh strainer,
sprigs of Italian parsley (I also tried some with basil leaves),
home-made pasta = *1 large egg per 100 grams of hard flour (like unbleached, bread making flour, high in protein) is sufficient for 3 persons. Double or triple accordingly.
Sift the flour and place it in a large bowl or on a bench (depending how you like to mix flour to make into a dough).
Make a well in the centre and add the egg and a little salt.
Begin to knead with your fingers; I begin by adding flour from the edges into the centre. Mix everything well. At this stage you may need to add a little bit more of flour if the mixture is too wet or a tiny bit of water if it is too dry. This is because of the differences in the size of the eggs and the absorbency of the flour. Work the dough till the pasta feels elastic.
Shape the dough into a ball, cover it (cloth or plastic wrap) and leave it for about one hour.
Using a rolling pin (or a pasta machine especially if making greater quantities) roll/ stretch the pasta quite thin.
Place whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together.
Roll it again until it is very thin and you will see the parsley through the top layer of the pasta – sandwiched in the centre and looking like embroidery. I also used basil leaves for some quadri (squares).
Cut the pasta into squares ( like ravioli). These do not need to be of regular size and shape. trim off irregular bits of pasta.
Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta squares. Cook for 1-3 minutes- they will rise to the surface when cooked.
Once I added the pasta to the broth I added the asparagus. The ingredients were cooked in a very short time.
This is what my version looked like:
I did find Bugialli’s recipe and he adds grated Parmigiano and black pepper to his pasta dough. He also says that this is a representative dish from Puglia. Bugialli is from Florence.
Here is Bugialli’s recipe:
FOR THE BROTH:
900g/2lbs dark turkey meat, with bones
1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 stick celery
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 medium-sized clove garlic, peeled but left whole
1 cherry tomato
4 sprigs Italian parsley
3 extra large egg whites
FOR THE PASTA:
40g (1 1/2 oz) (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmesan
pinch of salt
6 twists black pepper
450g (1 lb) (3 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
30 sprigs Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
Prepare the broth: put the turkey, coarse-grained salt to taste, the whole onion, celery, carrot, garlic, tomato, and parsley sprigs in a large stockpot. Cover with cold water and put the pot over medium heat, uncovered. Simmer for 2 hours, skimming off foam from the top.
Remove the meat from the pot and reserve it for another dish. Pass the rest of the contents of the pot through a fine strainer into a large bowl, to remove the vegetables and impurities. Let the broth cool, then place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight to allow the fat to rise to the top and solidify.
Use a metal spatula to remove the solidified fat then clarify the broth. Pour 4 tablespoons of the broth into a small bowl and mix it with the egg whites. Pour the broth and egg white mixture into the rest of the cold broth and whisk very well. Transfer the broth to a pot and place it on the edge of a burner. Bring to the simmering stage, half covered, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the egg whites rise to the top with the impurities, and the broth becomes transparent.
Meanwhile, place a clean, wet cotton tea towel in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then stretch the tea towel over a colander and strain the broth through it to clarify it completely. The broth should be absolutely clear.
Prepare the pasta with the ingredients listed, placing the grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, and eggs in the well in the flour. With much care and patience, gradually work the eggs into the flour until you have a slab of dough. Shape this into a ball and leave under a towel or in cling film (plastic wrap) to rest.
Stretch the pasta as thinly as possible by hand or with the pasta machine. Place the whole parsley leaves on top of half the length of the layer of pasta. Fold the other half of the layer of pasta over the parsley, and press the layers together. Continue to roll out the layer of pasta until it is very thin. Using a scalloped pastry cutter, cut the pasta into squares of about 5cm/2in.
Bring the broth to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 1-3 minutes, depending on how dry the pasta is. Serve hot, without adding cheese, which would spoil its purity.
This is what Bugialli’s pasta looked like. With a little more effort and a pasta machine, mine will look like that too.
In Australia squid and cuttlefish is often sold interchangeably.
Both squid and cuttlefish have the potential to contain ink sacs in their bodies, but cuttlefish seems to contain more ink and is preferred for ‘black ink’ dishes in Italy, especially in coastal towns around the Adriatic. As you can see in the photo seppie are often covered with ink when they are sold.
Squid can be as well, but rarely have I seen this in Australia (we like things clean and white!)
This photo was taken by my nephew very recently in the fish market in Venice. They are seppie (cuttlefish). Fresche means fresh, senza sabbia means without sand in Italian.
If you have ever cleaned squid or cuttlefish you may have found a pea like swelling filled with black ink in some of the cavities, but some come with an empty ink bladder. If you have ever fished for squid, the moment you try to lift them out of the water, most squid will squirt a cloud of dark brown ink in their attempt to get away.
The ink is not harmful to eat (It was once used as the artist’s pigment, sepia).
You may need to buy ink separately – you will need 3-6 ink sacs for this recipe.
In Venice and in Trieste seppie are cooked in umido (braised) in wine and in their own ink and served with polenta (a very popular dish). As a child living in Trieste this was my favourite dish, especially when served with left over fried polenta. In Triestino (dialect from Trieste) they are called sepe in umido co la polenta –this dish is still very popular in the trattorie in Trieste, many of them are found in Trieste vecchia (the old part of Trieste).
The seppie in umido become the dressing for the polenta (popular in the north of Italy, by many eaten more often than pasta and preferred to pasta).
cuttlefish or squid, 2k
white onion, sliced thinly
parsley, ½ bunch, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
garlic, 2 cloves, chopped
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
dry white wine, ¾ cup
Clean cuttlefish or squid: discard the eyes and beaks, separate heads from bodies and, cut off tentacles and set aside. Pull out hard transparent cartilage from bodies and discard. Cut bodies lengthwise to open and carefully remove the ink sacs and set aside. Remove and discard entrails. Rinse cuttlefish or squid under cold running water.
Slice fish and tentacles into large strips (they will shrink).
Heat oil in a large pan with lid over medium heat.
Add onions and garlic and sauté till golden. Add cuttlefish and reserved tentacles and sauté, add parsley and keep on stirring for about 10 mins.
Add wine and evaporate for a few minutes.
Mix the ink sacs in ½ cup of water, press on the ink sacs with the back of a spoon on the side of the cup to break the skin and release the black ink.
Add the water and ink to the braise.
Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fish is very tender for about 30 mins.
If there is too much liquid, uncover pan for the last 5 minutes of cooking to reduce and thicken the sauce.
Servewith plain polenta – no cheese, no milk. Traditional polenta is made with plain water.
There is instant polenta and original polenta. Instructions for cooking it are generally on the packet.Generally the ratio is 1 ½ cups yellow polenta to 4 cups water, salt to taste.Original polenta will take about 30 minutes.
In a heavy saucepan sift the cornmeal into the pan with water and salt. On medium eat bring to the boil. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon with a long handle. Reduce the heat to low. You will need to stir constantly until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Pour out the polenta onto a wooden board and with a spatula, shape it into a round shape (to resemble a cake) and allow it to rest 10 minutes.
Cut the polenta into thick slices, place one slice on each plate and top with the seppie in umido.
Slices of left over polenta taste wonderful fried in extra virgin olive oil. The surface of the polenta will develop a crosta (a golden brown crust). Delightful!!
For the Sicilian version of Pasta with Black ink sauce see earlier post:
Fans of the television series Montalbano (was a big, hit in Italy and Australia) are likely to be enchanted with the beauty of the Sicilian landscape and the array of specialty Sicilian food featured in the series.
Commissario Salvo Montalbano is a police commissioner and he lives in the south-east of Sicily, near Marina di Ragusa where my relatives have their holiday houses. Montalbano’s beach house is in Punta Secca is a small fishing village, in the Santa Croce Camerina comune, in Ragusa province, Sicily.
Andrea Camilleri is the writer of the crime stories and the books abound with delicious Sicilian food references.
Montalbano is an extremely appealing character who loves to eat. He savours his food, relishing all that is prepared for him with appreciation and gratitude. He readily accepts invitations to the homes of others and has his favourite trattorie (small restaurants). Montalbano is a detective who uses food to cheer himself up, plan his next moves and to weigh up the evidence. In the evenings he anticipates what Adelina (his housekeeper and cook) has left for him to eat and he hates to be interrupted over his dinner, but the phone often rings. He often seems to be thinking of what he will eat next or what he has eaten and in the books, Camilleri describes almost every dish Montalbano eats. And every dish is traditionally Sicilian.
On my last trip to Sicily, I ate in a couple of trattorie in Palermo where Camilleri and his friend Leonardo Sciascia (Sicilian writer) have been frequent patrons. One of Camilleri’s favourite dishes must be pasta or rice with black ink sauce – there are references made in a number of the books in the Montalbano series. In Siracusa I ate ricotta ravioli with black ink sauce.
Camilleri lives and works in Rome but spent a great number of years in Sicily before he moved north. He was born in Porto Empedocle, which is not far from Ragusa, and although Camilleri has given the places in Sicily fictitious names, the locations are recognisable. For example the scenes in Montalbano’s beautiful house overlooking the sea in Marinella near the fictional town of Vigàta is really of Punta Secca in Porto Empedocle (see photo). Fiacca is Sciacca, Fela is Gela, and Montelusa is Agrigento. The police station is a building in Ragusa Ibla and all of these towns are close to Ragusa, where my relatives live. The trattorie and restaurants in these south-eastern part of Sicily where the series were shot, have capitalised on this – a traveller visiting this part of Sicily can always sit down to eat pasta (or rice – risu) cu niuru di sicci.
This is how I cook it.
pasta, 500 g (spaghetti, linguine or bucatini)
squid or cuttlefish, 600g, and 2-3 ink sacks
ripe tomatoes, 300g, peeled and chopped
tomato paste, 1 large tablespoon
salt (a little) and, chili flakes or freshly ground black pepper to taste
onion, 1 medium or/and garlic 2 cloves
white wine, 1 cup
parsley, 1 cup finely cut
grated pecorino or ricotta to serve (optional)
Clean the squid carefully and extract the ink sac (see pg…). Cut the squid into 1cm rings and set them aside. The tentacles can be used also.
For the salsa:
Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil. Addthe tomatoes, chopped parsley, salt, white wine and tomato paste. Bring to a boil and evaporate until the salsa is thick.
Add the squid ink, red pepper flakes to the salsa and mix well.
Add the squid rings and cook over a medium-high heat until the squid is cooked to your liking (for me it is only a few minutes). If you prefer to cook the squid further (as the Italians do), add a little water, cover the pan and braise for longer.
Present the pasta with grated pecorino (or topped with a little ricotta – you do not want to end up with grey ricotta, so do not mix through).
Although Sicily is relatively small, the food is very local and there are always regional variations:
Keep the squid white – sauté it in a little oil for a few minutes (add a 1 chopped clove of garlic and 1-2 tablespoons of finely cut parsley). Fold it through the dressed pasta gently and reserve some for on top.
·Add 1 cup of shelled peas at the same time as the tomatoes.
·Add bay leaves at the same time as the squid.
·Reserve some of the salsa and present the black pasta with a spoon of salsa and a spoon of ricotta on top.
Photos of Ravioli and Pasta are by Graeme Gilles, stylist Fiona Rigg, from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking.