Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters)

Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters)

In antipasti, Sicilia, snack by Frank43 Comments

These Sicilian chickpea fritters, known as panelle in Italian, are often associated with Sicily’s capital city Palermo, where you can buy them sandwiched inside a sesame seed bun at street-side snack bars. But if you can’t get to Palermo any time soon, no worries. Panelle are pretty easy to make at home. You prepare a cooked batter very much like polenta only much faster. You spread out the batter very thin on a flat surface and allow it to cool and firm up, before cutting it into little rectangles or squares and deep frying them until golden brown.

Panelle might bring to mind Liguria’s farinata, a baked flatbread also made with a chickpea batter. But while both have a similarly delicious, mildly nutty flavor, if you ask me, the crispiness you get by frying them gives panelle a definite leg up. They’re a bit like potato chips, only thicker and tastier.

Served on their own, panelle are a wonderful treat to nibble on with wine or cocktails before a meal or as a snack. But be careful not to spoil your appetite… These little fellas are really addictive!

Ingredients

Makes about 25 panelle

  • 250g (1/2 lb) chickpea aka garbanzo flour
  • 750ml (3 cups) water
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Oil for deep frying

Optional ingredients:

  • A few sprigs of parsley or fennel fronds, finely minced
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Pour the water into a large saucepan with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the flour vigorously until it is well incorporated, to form a rather thin batter.

Turn on the heat and bring the batter to a simmer, whisking all the while to prevent lumping. As soon as it comes up to temperature, it will thicken very quickly. Once it is quite dense, take it off the heat. Mix in the minced parsley and ground black pepper if using.

While it is still hot, transfer the cooked batter to a flat, non-pourous surface (a cookie sheet works well) which you have greased well with olive oil. Using a flat spatula you’ve moistened with water, spread the batter out very thin, ideally about 3mm (1/8 in) if you can manage it. Let the batter cool completely; it will firm up as it cools. Cut into small squares or rectangles about 5cm (2 in) and gingerly lift the pieces off the surface with the spatula.

Deep fry the pieces in hot (190C/375F) oil until they are golden brown, working in batches if need be to avoid crowding.  They should puff up a bit as they fry. Drain them on paper towels as they are done.

Serve your panelle right away, sprinkled with salt. If you like, have some lemon wedges on the side for those who like their panelle sprinkled with some lemon juice.

Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters)

Notes on Panelle

In Palermo, panelle are often sold as street food, wedged in a sesame seed bun. My experience with panelle was in restaurants in western Sicily, served, sans bun, as an antipasto. And while parsley and pepper show up in many recipes, the ones I tried were plain—but still delicious!

Chickpea flour, also known as garbanzo bean flour, is available at better supermarkets these days. (In the US, Whole Foods carries it.) And if you can’t find it in your local stores, it is also available online.

An alternative technique for forming your panelle is to pour the cooked batter into a rectangular mold (the kind you might use for sandwich bread) to cool. You then thinly slice the solidified batter with a moistened thin-bladed knife before deep frying. This method avoids the fuss of spreading out the panelle batter onto a flat surface, and allows you to get the panelle as thin as you like. But it does take rather longer for the batter to cool, about 30-45 minutes.

It’s always a good idea to avoid crowding the pan whenever you’re frying, but it’s especially important with panelle. Besides turning out greasy, the little squares or rectangles won’t puff up as they should. So make sure they have plenty of room to swim around in the oil.

Making panelle ahead

You can make panelle ahead up to the point of frying. But they really need to be fried at the last moment and eaten right away to be at their best. Cold panelle are edible, but just barely. They tend to get rubbery and taste rather ‘flat’. Reheated panelle are very much second-best, but if you give them a quick dip in hot oil rather than, say, warming them in a microwave, they can be acceptable. And if you have an oven with an “air fry” or convection function, that might also work.

Baking panelle

You can also make panelle in the oven if you’re not keen on deep frying. You put the greased baking sheet on which you have spread the chickpea batter, brushed on top with olive oil, in a hot oven with the broiler pre-heated to 200C/400F. Let the top get nice and golden brown, then take it out of the oven and cut it into squares or rectangles. Not quite as good as fried, if you ask me, but quite good nonetheless.

La testa del moro

You may have noticed the charming ceramic figurine in the corner of this week’s photo. In Sicily, they call it la testa del Moro, or the Moor’s head. We all received one of these as a favor at the wedding I mentioned in the last post. And there’s quite the story behind them!

You see, Sicily was once ruled by the Moors. In those days a Moorish prince arrived in Palermo and seduced a beautiful young local maiden. They fell in love, and for a while it seemed they would live happily ever after. But suddenly the young prince disappeared. The maiden found out that he had returned to his homeland. She followed him there, only to find that he was already married with kids. One night while he was sleeping, she got her revenge: She cut off his head and secreted it back to Palermo to use as a vase for planting basil—the plant of love and passion—which she proudly displayed on her balcony.

Quite a story to bring to mind at a wedding! I guess it’s a good way to remind the groom to stay faithful..

 

Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters)

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes about 25 pieces

Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritters)

Ingredients

  • 250g (1/2 lb) chickpea aka garbanzo flour
  • 750ml (3 cups) water
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Optional ingredients:
  • A few sprigs of parsley or fennel fronds, finely minced
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

  1. Pour the water into a large saucepan with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk in the flour vigorously until it is well incorporated, to form a rather thin batter.
  2. Turn on the heat and bring the batter to a simmer, whisking all the while to prevent lumping. As soon as it comes up to temperature, it will thicken very quickly. Once it is quite dense, take it off the heat. Mix in the minced parsley and ground black pepper if using.
  3. While it is still hot, transfer the cooked batter to a flat, non-pourous surface (a cookie sheet, for example) which you have greased well with some olive oil. Using a flat spatula, spread the batter out very thin, about 3mm (1/8 in). Let the batter cool completely; it will solidify as it cools. Cut the batter into small squares or rectangles about 5cm (2 in) and gingerly lift the pieces off the surface with the spatula.
  4. Deep fry the pieces in hot (190C/375F) oil until they are golden brown, working in batches if need be to avoid crowding.  They should puff up a bit as they fry. Drain them on paper towels as they are done. 
  5. Serve your panelle right away, sprinkled with salt. If you like, have some lemon wedges on the side for those who like their panelle sprinkled with some lemon juice.
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Comments

  1. Frank, I had something similar in Torino as an appetiser to our pizzas but I have never been able to replicate it. I try your recipe. They look delicious!

  2. What a fun recipe, and (as always) a fun post, too! Palermo has been on our list for a while as Laura’s family comes from there. I’m not sure when we’ll make it there, but in the meantime we can totally make these panelle here at home. I’ve made crackers before, and that was fun…and these panelle remind me of that. The only difference is the crackers were baked instead of fried. Speaking of, I wonder if you can bake panelle? Also, that story of the figurine? Wow! Fun story, but man that’s a little morbid for a wedding. Haha!

    1. Author

      You can bake panelle (I mention it in the notes) but for me, nothing beats the fried version! And that story, yes, I thought so, too. But when in Rome… (or in Sicily).

  3. Hello! I would like to serve them this week-end, for a crowd, but I would like to know whether I can make them in advance, and reheat them in the oven. Can they be frozen?
    Thanks,
    Sílvia.

    1. Author

      Silvia, I discuss techniques for making them ahead in the Notes. Do check that out. The short answer is that you can make them ahead up to the point of frying. If you’re really pressed for time, you could also make them entirely ahead, especially if your oven has an air-fry or convection function for re-heating them, but this is one of those dishes that, for good or ill, really should be fried at the last minute to be at its best.

  4. Yes, these are seriously addictive. But so worth it. I made these earlier this year when I was in Sicily and there is nothing so delicious as eating them fresh out of the frying pan, with a good glass of wine. I love that you got a moor’s head as a wedding favor. I must have missed that post about the wedding. Going to look for it now.

  5. Omg Frank … they are amazing. This was a religious experience. I, too, like the oven version but these (for me) make that version pale in comparison. Mind you, I made half a batch and that might have been a mistake… they looked nothing like yours in the end. Perhaps the dough needed to thicken more? But the taste? Unbelievable! I will work on my technique and make more soon. A million thanks for this recipe and for getting us ready for Palermo!

    1. Author

      That’s awesome, David! So they were softer than they should have been, I take it? Anyway, the taste is the thing in my book. So glad you liked them! And do enjoy them while you’re there!

  6. I can just imagine what a great snack these crackers make. I like the flavor of garbanzo beans and I use them all the time but I never cooked with garbanzo flour.

    1. Author

      They are pretty awesome, Gerlinde. If you like the beans, you’ll love these.Do hope you give them a try!

  7. A new one for me also – it will surely be made, but, spoilsport that I am, also in the oven . . . yes, I appreciate about the taste! Off topic: that ‘Moor’s Head’ recently caused quite a scandal in the British royal family (and, yes, I am an Anglophile 🙂 ! ) I believe the Duchess of Kent, who belongs to my generation, and the new Duchess of Sussex, half-African American, have little time one for the other . . . so it was not regarded as quite infra dig when the first wore a prominent ‘Moor’s Head’ brooch on her garment when first they met at a formal function. Oh dear !! Yes, she had no option but to pretend it was not done on purpose and apologize !!

  8. I need this. Soon. You’re saying serve warm, but when they’re served as street food, I assume they’re served warm then too? And what about the buns? Is there a common condiment or sauce that goes with them? Sorry, too many questions lol? I think the kids would go crazy for these too. Can’t wait to try them. Thanks for sharing, Frank!

    1. Author

      When I tried them in Sicily, it was as an antipasto by themselves. But as I understand it, the street food versions are warm and the buns untoasted. Although sometimes served with a slice of lemon, no sauce, these babies are quite tasty as is!

  9. These sound so tasty. I do not have chickpea flour, but I do have a tin of chickpeas. Could one totally drain and mash the chickpeas and make a thick batter with them? Just enquiring as I would like to try and make them for next Saturday for a lunchette and games afternoon some lady friends and I are having. Getting hold of chickpea flour would be extremly difficult for me and even were I able to, even, it would be expensive for me as a pensioner. PS. I already get your emails.

    1. Author

      Chickpea flour can be hard to find, but you can purchase it online. It is a bit pricey, however, I have to admit, compared with wheat flour. I can really say whether puréed chickpeas would work. To be honest, I rather suspect that the purée would fall apart without something to bind it like wheat flour and/or egg. At that point, you’d have a different dish, but perhaps quite good, too. Worth a try!

    2. Corinna, we readily found chickpea flour as John used it sometimes for his onion bharjis. He had to use a mix of a couple of different flours. We got if from PNP, it is sometimes called GRAM FLOUR.

  10. This is not a hollow comment… I am making these this evening, Frank, to help get us in the mood (as if we need help) for our trip to Sicily next week! For my birthday, Mark bought me a magnetic induction burner so that I could fry things outdoors to my heart’s content! (My heart may actually not be very happy about this…)

  11. Adoro… Your resent visit to Sicily has been an undending source of inspiration Frank, which I am so enjoying. Panelle reflects the historic diversity of the island as so many of the iconic dishes do. These are nothing less than addictive, especially at aperitivo time.

  12. Frank, this is a new one for me and looks like a fun cook. I love making crackers and crisp bread so I’m looking forward to making these. Here we have Kikärtsknäckebröd, which is chickpea flour crisp bread, but prepared in a different way. I love the la testa del Moro story. I think it would make a lovely basil planter.

    1. Author

      It would, but the story behind it… ! Thanks for stopping by, Ron. That crisp bread sounds interesting, will check it out.

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