In Palermo, panellari are everywhere. Often no more than a window opening to a small kitchen with a few tables outside, these street food vendors offer simple fare: panelle... cici (chickpea) fritters made with chickpea flour, salt and water. A panino (sandwich) with panelle can be eaten for breakfast or lunch by businessmen, construction workers, students and children alike. Panelle have become so popular that you can find them pretty much anywhere in Italy.
Other offerings at penellari include potato croquettes called crocché, made with mashed potatoes, fresh eggs, pepper, mint leaves and caciocavallo cheese. Then there's rascature, an example of the Sicilian idea of never letting anything going to waste. Basically, they are fritters made from the remains of the day--chickpea dough gone too dry to make regular panelle. Finally, you might find quaglie melanzane (sliced, fried eggplant)... "quaglie" means quail in Italian, a name given to the resemblance of this treat to a nesting quail because of it's interesting manner of preparation and presentation: A smallish eggplant is sliced into long strips, then deep fried, but it's stem is left as a handle.
Panelle (Chickpea Fritters) Recipe
Line two 15-by-10-by-1-inch jelly roll pans with plastic wrap.
Pour the water into a saucepan, then slowly whisk in the chickpea flour, a little at a time, to prevent lumps from forming. Whisk in the 2 tsp. salt and the pepper. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the mixture is very thick, about 5 minutes.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing evenly. Using a rubber spatula dipped in water, quickly spread the batter to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Let cool completely to set the mixture. (The recipe can be prepared up to this point, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day before continuing.)
Using a knife, cut the cooled sheets of batter into 3-by-2-inch strips, then peel the strips off the plastic wrap. In a large, deep fry pan over medium heat, pour in oil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Heat until the oil sizzles when a small piece of a strip is dropped into it. Carefully lower a few of the strips into the hot oil; do not crowd the pan. Fry, turning once, until golden brown and slightly puffed, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain. Keep warm while you fry the remaining pieces.
Arrange the fritters on a warmed platter, season with salt and serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone (Time-Life Books, 1999).
Try Panelle in a sesame seed roll with some ricotta and honey, or as a finger food with a marinara dipping sauce. They are also great with a sprinkling of cheese and chopped parsley or mint. To be really authentic, serve them wrapped in plain paper along with with a granita, that icy Sicilian drink made of sugar and flavored water.
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