Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano with Recipe for Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma)

Andrea Camilleri

Andrea Camilleri, photograph by Pensiero

(From Greece)

English language books are hard to find on the island.

I carefully select those to bring with us, focusing on books we’ll both enjoy and want to reread. After several years, most books recede far enough into memory that rediscovering them is a pleasure. Since airlines have cracked down on weight limits, prudent book selection is more important than ever.

Two years ago my parents sent us the first six volumes of Andrea Camilleri’s wondrously good Inspector Montalbano series, set in Sicily and skillfully translated by poet Stephen Sartarelli. A few pages into the first book, I realized the series was perfect for the island. I quit reading and put the Camilleri books in my “bring to the island” corner.

Then my head exploded and I was off reading for longer than I’d planned. Shortly before we left for Greece this year, to my great joy, I finally was able to read books again. I dug out the Montalbano series and packed them for the trip.

I began getting to know Inspector Montalbano our first day on the island. One week later, thoroughly captivated by the cantankerous, world-weary, enigmatic inspector, I finished the last of the six books. I’m already looking forward to rereading them, but first I’ll track down and devour the rest of the series.

Here’s Camilleri/Sartarelli describing the inspector in the opening scene of The Terra-Cotta Dog (book 2):

To judge from the entrance the dawn was making, it promised to be a very iffy day – that is, blasts of angry sunlight one minute, fits of freezing rain the next, all of it seasoned with sudden gusts of wind – one of those days when someone who is sensitive to abrupt shifts in weather and suffers them in his blood and brain is likely to change opinion and direction continuously, like those sheets of tin, cut in the shape of banners and roosters, that spin every which way on rooftops with each new puff of wind. Inspector Salvo Montalbano had always belonged to this unhappy category of humanity.

Camilleri’s prose brings Sicily’s people, and its highways and byways, vividly to life. In the original Italian, Camilleri uses Sicilian dialect to create colorful characterizations and bring humor to stories that might otherwise be overly dark. Sartarelli effectively captures the dialect’s essence in his creative translation.Inspector Montalbano loves to eat, and insists on doing so silently, the better to appreciate every nuance in the dishes set before him. He thinks poorly of those who cook badly, and when forced to eat bad food (“… shamefully overcooked pasta, a beef stew conceived by an obviously deranged mind, and dishwater coffee of a sort that even airline crews wouldn’t foist on anyone…”), he heads out for a meal good enough to lift him out of the gloom into which bad food plunges him.

In the course of investigating a disappearance in The Snack Thief (Book 3), Inspector Montalbano interviews a “well-dressed seventy-year-old lady … in a wheelchair.” When the interview is over, the woman invites the inspector to lunch:

“Well, signora, thank you so much …,” the inspector began, standing up.“Why don’t you stay and eat with me?”

Montalbano felt his stomach blanch. Signora Clementina was sweet and nice, but she probably lived on semolina and boiled potatoes.

“Actually, I have so much to –“ “Pina, the housekeeper, is an excellent cook, believe me. For today she’s made pasta alla Norma, you know, with fried eggplant and ricotta Salata.”

“Jesus!” said Montalbano, sitting back down.

“And braised beef for the second course.”

“Jesus!” repeated Montalbano.

“Why are you so surprised?”

“Aren’t those dishes a little heavy for you?”

“Why? I’ve got a stronger stomach than any of these twenty-year-old girls who can happily go a whole day on half an apple and some carrot juice. Or perhaps you’re of the same opinion as my son Giulio?”

“I don’t have the pleasure of knowing what that is.”

“He says it’s undignified to eat such things at my age. He considers me a bit shameless. He thinks I should live on porridges. So what will it be? Are you staying?”

“I’m staying,” the inspector replied decisively.

Although food plays only a supporting role in the Montalbano books, Camilleri’s descriptions of traditional Sicilian dishes are inspirational. I read the above passage just before lunch and, coincidentally, had the ingredients on hand to make Pasta alla Norma. So I did.

Montalbano was right to stay for lunch with Signora Clementina. Eggplant and Tomato Sauce with Spaghetti is absolutely delicious.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:


17 Responses to Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano with Recipe for Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma)


    what a fantastic way to introduce a dish – and i love the way the food is described in the book (must make notes like this for future reference…)

  2. I brought books, magazines, etc back from Greece and boy did it add weight to me baggage.

    Eggplant is great for no-meat Fridays and I you pasta dish sounds wonderful, save for the feta which I find to be a little strong here.

  3. Oh, Laurie—this is wonderful! I, too, am a devotee of the Montalbano books (my own posts for two of the Novel Food events have been about food from the novels). I'm on tenterhooks waiting for the next one to become available in English.

    You've written a marvelous post that does justice to both the books and the pasta. 🙂 I've been eating a lot of eggplant lately but hadn't thought of pasta alla Norma. That will be my next eggplant concoction! I can even get ricotta salata in my small city, which is a bonus.

    Thanks so much for joining in on our event. Simona and I both love reading all the posts, finding out about new books or being reminded of old, etc.

  4. It was so entertaining to read this post. It’s fantastic that you drew inspiration for lunch from the books that you’re reading. It’s so good to know that you’re enjoying your fresh veggies…it sounds like you’re really enjoying yourself. Yay!!
    ….it’s nice having you in the same time zone!

  5. I love your selection of excerpts! And pasta alla Norma is such a great dish. I also roast the eggplant to keep dishes light. Thanks for your contribution. I am glad Montalbano was a great company during your vacation.

  6. Interesting reading Laurie. I really love the simplicity behind this dish. Eggplants and tomatoes are the perfect pair when it comes to cooking.

  7. Mike of Mike's Table says:

    Sounds like good reading and the dish sounds delicious. I don’t work with eggplant nearly enough

  8. Fabulous flavours in this – I love the eggplant, tomato, mint, ricotta mix. All I need to do now is persuade my other half that he likes eggplant really so that we can have it a bit more often


    just dropped by to read this post again and embed it in my mind…

  10. Really a lovely post. And I am so happy to hear that you’re able to enjoy reading again.

  11. MyKitchenInHalfCups says:

    How really delightful! Your dish looks wonderful. I’ve put the series on my library list!

  12. Based on my experience, the Italians and the Greeks and the Persians (& other Middle Eastern/North African countries) know how to prepare their eggplant dishes to the point of perfection. No offense to all those Canadian restaurants where I have had the displeasure of eating rubbery eggplant, but it's the truth. I love my eggplant. And I especially enjoy it when it's prepared properly. However, I have a husband that does not enjoy eggplant as much as I do. So, my approach is to sneak it into dishes without him knowing in advance. If it tastes good to him and I tell him there's eggplant in it, he's okay with it. Laurie, I think this might be another great way to serve eggplant on the sly 🙂

  13. Bellini Valli says:

    You were very lucky indeed Laurie. My cousin suffered from a brain aneurysm which has affected her entire life even 3 years later. Life is a precious thing so enjoy every moment as I’m sure you do already:D

  14. Thanks Maria! I do favor books with a good food angle – are you shocked??

    Peter M, I know exactly the problem you are describing with baggage weight limits. We struggle with it every year. Between the books and the food, we have a hard time getting everything home. Although it does look like feta, the recipe used myzithra or ricotta salata, both of which are mild and suit the recipe.

    Lisa, I can’t wait to get back to the US and buy the rest of the Montalbano books – I appreciate Camilleri’s sardonic attitude. Thanks to both you and Simona for organizing this Novel Food – it’s my favorite of all food events because I always discover new books I want to read!

    Cheryl, I do love being in this time zone! How anyone can not eat their fill of fresh vegetables while in Greece, I can’t understand. We rarely eat meat here and when we do it’s usually mixed with veggies. Yum!

    Simona, glad to know I’m not the only eggplant roaster! As I said to Lisa, thanks so much for putting together the Novel Food event – the best on the net!

    Peter G, maybe eggplants and tomatoes go together so well because they’re both members of the nightshade family?? Whatever the reason, you’re so right – they’re the “perfect pair.”

    Mike, maybe you should buy a case of eggplant and work your way through them! By the time the case is gone, you’ll be an eggplant guru!

    Sophie, you never know what might change a mind – if there’s ever an eggplant recipe to do so, it’s this one, for exactly the reasons you say, the flavors are just fabulous.

    Kiwi, too funny! I can’t wait to start learning about your taste in literature!

    Kalyn, thank you so much.

    HalfCups, I hope you enjoy the books as much as I did!

    Bijoux, I agree with you completely about the marvelous recipes for eggplant in the Mediterranean countries. As much as I love eggplant, there’s really nothing worse than when its undercooked, sort of a combination between rubbery and cottony – yuck. Although I don’t have a problem with eggplant, there are definitely ingredients I don’t tell hy husband about until he gives a dish his stamp of approval (and sometimes not even then…). As my grandmother said often, “don’t tell everything you know.”

    Val, that’s so sad about your cousin. Aneurysms can be devastating (assuming you survive). Life is precious indeed. This blog is part of my celebration of it.

  15. [eatingclub] vancouver || js says:

    Haven’t tried pasta alla norma but now I have something to look to when I do. Thanks! Bookmarked.

  16. This does look fabulous! Just found this! Love this blog, great looking flavors & recipes!

  17. Klio D.,Thessaloniki,Greece says:

    Hi, Laurie!!!!I’m very glad I found your site,a few days ago,from Pinterest actually,and I think it is great that someone in Alaska is cooking greek recipes,promoting greek cuisine.I love your posts.I also checked the sites about turkish food recipes,some of them are great and exactly what I was looking for,great turkish recipes in english,yey,thank you so much.And finally,today I’ve just find this text about Camilleri books!!!!What a pleasantsurprise,cause I’m a great fan of him ,too.I enjoy his work so much,especially during summer vacations in Skiathos,I totally agree with you on that,it’s a great read for summer siestas and beach time.I recently found that there are 3-4 new books of him in greek and I’m going to buy them just before leaving for my vacation.Keep up the good work.
    May I suggest a very good greek site, you can find a lot of good stuff there.Take a look.

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