“Montalbano felt moved. This was real friendship, Sicilian friendship, the kind based on intuition, on what was left unsaid. With a true friend, one never needs to ask, because the other understands on his own accordingly.” Andrea Camilleri, The Snack Thief
Salvo Montalbano is a fictional detective created by the genius of Andrea Camilleri, a Sicilian author who recently passed away but left an incredible legacy in the literature field.
Montalbano lives in Vigata, a fictional city based on Camilleri’s home town – Porto Empedocle. Even if he is supposed to be the “hero” of the story, his character is depicted in all the raw essence of human nature: Salvo cheats on his girlfriend quite often, lies a lot, and sometimes “bend” the law in his favour in order to get a confession or speed up an investigation. The cases are always based in Sicily, with a breathtaking scenery and some bitter references to Sicilian politicians and their involvement with criminality. Salvo doesn’t work on his own; in his team there is Mimì Augello (u’ fimminaru, which translates as “the womanizer”), Giuseppe Fazio, Galluzzo, and Agatino Catarella (one of the funniest characters ever created). His team mates are, like Montalbano, ordinary men with flaws and all, they often make mistakes or lie to their families and friends.
Salvo loves Sicily, his friends, and he is obviously a foodie: from the arancini made by Adelina, his housekeeper, to the beautiful dishes made by Enzo at his restaurant, sometimes it is worth to watch an episode just to discover more Sicilian specialities. And watching Montalbano I recently felt inspired making his favourite pasta, called ‘ncasciata.
Pasta ‘ncasciata was invented in Messina, and it is typically served for lunch on a Sunday; it is also the dish to celebrate “La Vara”: vara means “coffin” in sicilian, and refers to the final resting place for Virgin Mary, before she was taken to heaven.
The Vara is 14 meters tall, and every year on the 15th of August, people in Messina parade through the city carrying this magnificent statue, facing temperatures over 30°, to celebrate a tradition that is more than 500 years old.
Pasta ‘ncasciata is part of the celebration,people gather together to enjoy this delicious dish – and obviously each family have their own recipe!
There are two theories behind the name of this dish:
- “u ncaçio”, in Sicilian, is the name of the pot used to cook this pasta. In the past, the pot was covered in embers and the pasta was left to cook in the fire for hours;
- One of the main ingredients of this dish is cheese, that when cooked becomes crusty, creating a sort of “cage”. ‘Ncasciata can therefore be roughly translated as “caged”.
I find more charming the first theory, I love the idea of this pot covered in embers while people gather around having a drink and a chat 🙂
And here is the recipe of this fantastic dish:
Ingredients for 4 people:
- For the pasta
- Rigatoni (or maccheroni, or a short pasta shape), 400g
- Caciocavallo, or another fresh cheese, 100g
- Boiled eggs, 3
- Aubergines, 2
- Salame, 100g
- Tomato sauce, 700g
- Grated pecorino cheese, 150g
- Olive oil, 5 tablespoons
- Salt and pepper
- For the meatballs
- Beef mince meat, 200g
- Grated stale bread, 2 tablespoons
- Egg, 1
- Grated pecorino cheese, 2 tablespoons
- Olive oil, 4 tablespoons
- Tomato sauce, 50g
- Salt and pepper
- Let’s start with the meatballs: combine together the mince, stale bread, egg, pecorino, parsley, salt and pepper
- Make some little balls and fry them in the olive oil
- Add the tomato sauce and let everything cook for 30 minutes
- Cut the aubergines in slices or cubes, sprinkle some salt over them and let them drain in a colander for one hour; then rinse them under fresh water and dry them with kitchen towel
- Fry the aubergines in the olive oil
- Bring the water to boil, cook the pasta for only half of the time indicated on the box
- Drain the pasta and mix it with tomato sauce and 50g of pecorino cheese
- Add the aubergines, meatballs, caciocavallo, salame, boiled eggs cut in squares and the remaining pecorino
- Pour the pasta in a tray and cook in the oven at 200° for 40 minutes