Montalbano’s Food and the Great Camilleri

Mr. Andrea Camilleri is the “father” of Inspector Montalbano, an Italian television series produced and broadcast by RAI since 1999. The protagonist is commissario (Commissioner) Salvo Montalbano, and the stories are set in the imaginary town of Vigàta, Sicily.

The books might be difficult to read for some Italians as they are written in a mixed of Italian/Sicilian—of Camilleri’s own making—that need some “getting used to.” 

I think I read them all. To my delight the TV series was broadcasted in the US too, so I started watching the episodes while I was still living there. 

Mr. Camilleri is now 93 years old and blind, yet he delights us still with his novels, where there is always a subtle criticism to Italian politics, and the constraints of bureaucracy. One of his last books was a short non-fiction story of his life.  A letter to his niece Matilda (the title is “Now Tell Me About You—Letter to Matilda”). 

Wondering what will remain of us in the memory of our loved ones, Camilleri writes about his past life, highlighting the moments of his life that made him the writer he has become. With humor he retrace the history of Italy from the ‘30s on, thru love, politics, friends, and literature. His mistakes, his delusions and fallacies.

However, his best character is Salvo (short for Salvatore) Montalbano. Montalbano is an engaging hero; honest, decent and loyal. He has his own way of doing things, and his superiors regard him as something of a loose cannon. One of the strengths of the novels is Montalbano’s ability to navigate through a murky world, a world of shady connections and favours owed and owing, without compromising himself beyond what he can live with. There is a great deal of humour in his character, such as his unconditional love for silence while enjoying a good meal, but the primary subtext is hard criticism of the social and political situation of both the Sicilian and Italian contexts.

Montalbano has been contentious about the Berlusconi years. In the book “August Heat,” he turns a Dante Alighieri quote about Italy’s being “a ship without a helmsman” into a reflection on the country’s having, in the media magnate turned prime minister, “a helmsman it could do without“. While the book “Paper Moon” contains a paragraph-long rant about Berlusconi’s rise.

Montalbano loves good food, either at a local restaurant, or—better yet—the meals that “Adelina” his maid, prepares for him at his house, and that he consumes often on his balcony overlooking the sea. 

We are all familiar with his favorites dishes; Timballo, Caponata, Pasta ’ncaciata, Fried Mullet, Arancini, Spaghetti with cuttlefish (black ink). After reading, or watching an episode, I always want to make one of those culinary delights.

Montalbano Timballo is described here.

Considering the season, Eggplant Caponata is here

Sadly, the final novel in the series of Montalbano is already written and deposited at the publishing house. Both—Camilleri and Montalbano—will be sorely missed. 

The book “The Brewer of Preston” was one of my favorites books. A non-Montalbano novel. 

“Matilda, I learned very few things, I share them to you”

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