I have always heard from my mom that her Uncle Louie would make these delicious treats for the family when they were growing up. What she was talking about was Panelle, and apparently no one made it in the family other than him. She said they would all go over to his and my Aunt Mary’s home and my Uncle Louie would be frying the panelle in olive oil. They would eat it between slices of Italian bread with the olive oil dripping from it. She says it was delicious, and I would always ask her if she would make it. The response I always got back was – “Ehhh, only Uncle Louie made it.” I took that as no one watched him or asked him how to make it.
My uncle Louie was a special man. He was a good father, a fantastic uncle, a great dancer, and a terrific cook. He loved food and did it all from baking cookies to making his own meatballs. I can remember eating so many things that he made, but never the panelle(?). So I did my research and found that it is commonly made throughout Sicily – none the less – common street food. All you really need to make it is Garbanzo Bean (a.k.a. Chick Pea) flour, and a bit of time. You end up cooking the garbanzo bean flour like you would a polenta, you spread it an even layer to chill and become firm. When it is firm you fry it in some olive oil until crispy – how could that not sound good? Simplicity often leads to deliciousness.
I made some the other night for dinner and kept thinking of my Uncle Louie. When it was ready and I was eating it I felt pure joy. The crunch from the outside to the creamy center was complete gratification. The taste is exceptional and I can only compare to that of something like a crispy piece of hummus. As I ate it I started to feel this connection to my family. I felt like I could see my Uncle Louie serving it up for everyone and could feel my mom’s excitement as she would eat it as a child. Sometimes I feel it is strange to have such a connection with family and food, but I would not trade it for anything in the world.
Panelle (Serves 8 - 12)
2 1/3 cups chickpea flour
1 Tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp of Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
more Olive Oil, for frying
First, in a 4 quart pan, whisk together chickpea flour, salt and pepper, and 3 cups water until smooth. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking it constantly until mixture becomes a thick paste, about 6 to 10 minutes. Lower your heat and continue whisking until mixture pulls away from side of pan and bubbles like lava when left alone.
Next; with a rubber spatula, spread mixture about ½ - 1 inch of thickness in an oiled pan. I like to spread it into pie plates about 9 – 10 inches in diameter (About 2) so that you can cut wedges out of it. Place it in the refrigerator to chill and firm up (about 1 hour or longer).
Finally; when dough disks are cool, slice them into wedges and lift out of the pan with a spatula. Place a non-stick pan over medium heat and heat through. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom and heat through. Working in batches, add your Panelle wedges and fry, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp. When wedges are crispy place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain and cool, best when served hot.
**Note: I served the panelle as a sandwich that I made with Italian Bread, Ricotta Cheese, and Arugula. But you can eat it any way you wish.