This recipe is from Sicily.
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!
Preparation time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes
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
- Cut the aubergine (egg plant) into 1cm (1/2″) cubes. Salt them and then place them in a colander over a bowl for about an hour. Throw away the juices that collect in the bowl and then wash the salt off the cubes. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Deep fry the aubergine cubes until they begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Place them on paper towels to dry up any excess oil.
- Peel and cut the onion in half. Then slice each half thinly.
- Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and then cook the onion gently with some salt, for about 10 minutes. Do not allow the onion to brown. Then add the pancetta and cook for another five minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, passata, and red wine to the onions and pancetta. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and then cook the penne until they are al dente, about 10 minutes. At the same time, preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F).
- Drain the pasta and place in a large oven-proof dish (the type you would use for lasagne). Pour the tomato sauce over and stir well so that all the pasta is covered.
- Stir the aubergine cubes and the caciocavallo into the pasta, making sure they are evenly distributed.
- Cover the top of the pasta with the grated parmigiano reggiano and then bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Allow to cool slightly before serving.