Panelle are Sicilian fritters; they are one of those things that is assembled from such humble ingredients, that you find its deliciousness amazing. Panelle is part of what is called cucina povera, poor man’s kitchen, alluding to the inexpensive nature of the ingredients. The main ingredient in panelle is chickpea flour, a product you can easily find in the organic or health food section of your grocery store.
Panelle hails from southern Italy, mainly Palermo where according to our friend Tony-a Sicilian, street vendors do brisk business selling panelle. It is sometimes sold as a sandwich. One of my favorite ways to eat panelle is accompanied by an arugula salad drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with pieces of Parmigianno Regiano (the absolute king of Italian Parmesan cheeses). Add a nice glass of Chianti to this and a perfect meal awaits you.
By now you must have figured out that it was our friend Tony who introduced my husband and I to panelle, and for that we are eternally grateful. Now, panelle is deep-fried, so it is not exactly what you would call “health food”, but my philosophy is to enjoy all things that you like in moderation. The perfect panelle is sliced thin and has a nice crunchy exterior and a soft interior.
As far as the origins of panelle are concerned, I was not able to find much, other than that it is believed that panelle was introduced to Sicily by the Arabs who dominated the area between the 9th and the 11th century. In a previous post I mentioned that garbanzo beans (chickpeas) originated in the Middle East. In Sicily panelle is also enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon, another Arab import. You can also add extra wow to your panelle by topping it with fresh herbs such as parsley.
In reading the recipe below, you will find that making panelle is not time consuming or difficult. Some chefs in big cities are even experimenting with chickpea “French fries” more to come on that one once I learn the process.
Panelle is a popular street food in Palermo Sicily made with chickpea flour and fried like a fritter. These are often served simply wrapped in paper or between sliced bread or a roll like a sandwich. When I make them at home I like to top mine with a some Parmesan cheese.
- Lightly grease one 9" loaf pan.
- Mix chickpea flour, and pepper.
- Place a 2 qt.sauce pan over medium heat and add the salt. When the water starts to get warm, slowly add the chickpea flour, stirring constantly and scraping the sides. Continue to do this until all the flour has been incorporated into the water.
- Place the dough into the prepared loaf pan and smooth out the top with a knife by running it across the top of the dough( lengthwise).
- Refrigerate until cool (about 2 hours).
- Remove from fridge and invert onto a cutting board. With a chef's knife slowly cut the panelle dough into thin (1/4") slices.
- Fry in hot oil for about 2 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmigiano Regiano and chopped parsley (if desired).