Walking through the streets of the kinetic city of Palermo is an experience for all the senses. Your eyes are drawn at once to a melting pot of architectural styles from Byzantine to Baroque. Beautiful ornate fountains are everywhere, and the hordes of people and dizzying traffic make for fever pitch activity. Your nose tells you that something good is cooking just
around the corner delicious street food sold from little carts. Buy a soft bun (pani cu la meuza) stuffed with beef spleen or iris (bread filled with sheep’s milk ricotta cheese) or my favorite, panelle, golden brown, fried fritters made from ground chickpeas. Panelle are easy to make and a great antipasto for a party.
Portions: Makes about 32 panelle
- 2½ cups (8 ounces) chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 3 cups water
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or oregano (optional)
- 4 to 6 cups vegetable oil for frying
In a heavy-bottomed 2 quart saucepan, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together off the heat. Slowly stir in the water and blend in with a heavy duty whisk, being careful to avoid lumps from forming. Stir in the parsley or oregano.Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until it thickens and begins to move away from the sides of the pan; this is similar to making polenta. Remove the pan from the heat. Using a rubber spatula, divide and spread the mixture thinly over four 9-inch round plates, making sure to cover the plate completely to the rim. Set the plates aside to cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Run a butter knife around the outside edge of each plate. Carefully lift the panelle away from the dish. Stack the panelle on top of each other and cut them in half lengthwise, then into quarters. Cut each quarter in half. There should be 32 panelle. In a deep fryer, heat the vegetable oil to 375°F. Fry the panelle until they are nicely browned. Drain them on brown paper or paper towels and serve immediately. These are best eaten hot.
Another way to form the panelle is to spread the cooked mixture onto an oiled rimless baking sheet or cutting board. Let the mixture cool and then cut it into rectangles. Or fill an empty can with the bottom removed with the mixture and let it cool. Push the mixture out
with your hand. Cut the dough into rounds and fry. To make these ahead of time, form and cut the panelle and freeze them, uncooked, in single layers on a baking sheet. When they are frozen, transfer the panelle to plastic bags and seal well. Defrost as needed and fry. Did you know that chickpeas are one of the world’s oldest foods? Food historians have dated their use to prehistoric times. Chickpeas are packed with protein and can be served in a variety of ways, from soups to marinated salads.