I’ve recently become friendly with a fellow food blogger called Vanessa who has a blog I enjoy very much called Food in Books. It deals with the two things I love more than anything else: eating and reading. Vanessa scours the world’s literature looking for references to food and then she develops a recipe based on the one in the extract, so you can eat along with your favourite literary characters.
Vanessa already has a couple of Italian recipes based on The Godfather by Mario Puzo and The Name of the Rose by the recently deceased Umberto Eco—which also happens to be one of my favourite books. Vanessa was kind enough to reference my blog in the post on The Name of the Rose, so I thought I’d return the compliment by doing my own Food in Books post, based on the Montalbano novels by Andrea Camilleri.
Since his first appearance in La forma dell’acqua (The Shape of Water) in 1994, Commissario Montalbano, a Sicilian police inspector with his own way of doing things, has become a major character in Italian literature. In 1999, the Italian state TV company, RAI, started making the books into TV films which have had an enormous success both in and outside Italy.
In the second Montalbano novel, Il cane di terracotta (The Terracotta Dog), we discover Salvo Montalbano’s favourite dish. During a particularly difficult investigation, Montalbano goes home and has a long swim in the sea outside his house. Going back inside he feels hungry and finds in the oven ‘a dish containing four enormous portions of pasta ‘ncasciata, a dish worthy of the gods of Mount Olympus.’ (Camilleri, A (1996) Il cane di terracotta Palermo: Sellerio.) We are told that he ate two portions and then went to bed and slept for an hour like lead.
The dish had been left for him by his cleaning lady Adelina and her food turns up often in the novels. In a recent TV dramatisation of Una faccenda delicata Montalbano asks secretly Adelina to prepare pasta ‘ncasciata for him because he can’t face the cooking of his long term girlfriend Livia, during one of her frequent visits from Genoa.
Pasta ‘ncasciata is essentially what in the UK we’d call a pasta bake: pasta, with a tomato sauce, aubergine, cheese—lots of cheese—all baked in the oven. I can hear your mouths watering so without further ado here is the recipe. I’ll warn you though: like all Italian dishes every mamma has her own variation. Buon appetito!
1 aubergine (egg plant)
oil for frying
200g (7 ounces) smoked pancetta, cubed
1 tin Italian tomatoes
250ml (1 cup) passata
250ml (1 cup) red wine
500g (1 pound) penne pasta
300g (10 ounces) caciocavallo cheese, cubed
150g (5 ounces) grated parmigiano reggiano
salt and pepper
1 aubergine (egg plant)