What is Panelle?
Pane e panelle is an unmissable classic of traditional Palermo street food. It is nothing more than a small fritter made with chickpea flour, ground pepper, and a drop of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
It is usually served in small loaves called Mafalde, typical Sicilian bread covered with sesame seeds. Bread stuffed with panelle can be easily purchased in fry shops (including street vendors called panellari) throughout Palermo, and most definitely in the famous Ballarò market.
There are three different types of Sicilian bread that can be used with the panelle:
- Mafalda, named after Mafalda di Savoia, is the crispest bread.
- Scaletta is made in the shape of a snake.
- Focaccia (or vastidda) is a soft round bread with cimino (sesame seeds) on top.
History of Panelle
Already in ancient Roman times, chickpeas were widely used in cooking, especially in the form of polenta: chickpea flour was usually consumed by all the populations of the Mediterranean. It represented a practical way to use these precious legumes throughout the year.
In Sicily it was the Arabs who experimented with the grinding of chickpeas to obtain the flour, which, when mixed with water and cooked, gave life to a dough similar to polenta.
It is assumed that the first panelle were cooked on stone in vertical ovens usually used to bake flat breads typical of Middle Eastern cuisine. In the Middle Ages, probably during the Angevin rule, people in Sicily began to fry them. The literature of the time tells that the Angevins were particularly fond of panelle.
What is certain is that bread and panelle have remained one of the cornerstones of Palermo’s gastronomy. At the beginning sold only in winter — from Santa Lucia to Christmas — to celebrate the abundance of holidays with fried food, bread and panelle became the daily meal, often the only one, for many poor people.
- 300 grams chickpea flour
- 900 grams water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 lemon
- vegetable oil
Pour the chickpea flour into a saucepan, add the salt, and mix. Add the water little by little and mix it with a whisk until the mixture is lump-free.
Thicken the mixture over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly with the whisk. It should form a sort of polenta that comes off the sides of the pot. The mixture must be compact and not liquid!
Transfer the mixture to a cutting board lined with parchment paper.
Spread with a knife to a thickness of 0.25 inches.
Let it cool at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Lay a second sheet of parchment paper on the surface and roll out with a rolling pin without squeezing, but just to create a uniform surface.
Shape the edges so as not to waste dough and let it cool completely before cutting your squares. Use a square or rectangular cookie cutter. Circles are also good, or you can simply use a knife.
Fry in plenty of oil in a large pan for about 2 minutes without turning.
Drain on absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt, and if you prefer, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over it.