So far April is doing its best to make us not forget the beautiful Sicilian spring we enjoyed in March: we’re back to frosty nights, hail chased up by snow showers as well as grey, endless rain. Yet, nothing that flipping through thousands of photos and recipe notes can’t cure!
The five days we spent with Fabrizia Lanza and some dear, long-time blogging friends at Case Vecchie (upon invitation, airfare paid by ourselves) was some of the most joyful and food-concentrated time I ever had in Italy – and I’ve been to Italy a lot. To sum it up, we basically did nothing else than cook, eat and talk about food. We learned to cooked traditional Sicilian fare, visited local cheese makers and wineries, had a memorable picnic in the most beautiful historical citrus orchard (Giardino della Kolymbetra), attended the feast of Saint Guiseppe in Sclafani Bagni, … in short, a food lover’s dream.
Some days we spent more than six hours in the kitchen, cooking alongside Fabrizia. She happily answered each and every question, taught us her gnocchi technique or shared family recipes and funny anecdotes from her cooking school, where she has cooked with Jamie Oliver, Grant Achatz, Alice Waters and the likes.
Despite the fact that the food world goes crazy over the local theme, local and seasonal is what describes Fabrizia’s cooking style best. Sicilian cooking is far from being fancy -technically speaking- , basically people use what they can afford and what’s available nearby or growing on their own soil. And naturally, when the seasons give you tomatoes or artichokes in abundance, all hands available on the farm help canning and preserving for the colder months. Not because it is the latest trend, simply because it is a necessity and has always been like this.
One of the most traditional appetizers we enjoyed were homemade Panelle. These chickpea fritters are similar to the Panisses one can find along the Cote d’Azur. But since they are thinner and turn out more crisp, I’d choose Panelle over Panisses any day… If you are looking for an impressive yet simple appetizer for your next Italian-themed dinner party – this is it!
Heat the water in a medium sized pot. Slowly pour in the sifted chickpea flour while whisking until you receive a uniform texture without lumps. (Fabrizia adds everything – water, chickpea flour, salt & pepper – at once, but since I almost always end up with lumps when working with chickpea flour, this method works best for me). Season generously with salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon or spatula stir it over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the mixture is pretty thick and resembles stiff polenta.
Using a spatula or palette knife spread the mixture thinly onto plates (mine were dessert size) – you got to work quickly as it solidifies within minutes. Let stand and cool for at least 15 minutes.
Either peel off the round dough crepes after loosing the edges with a knife and cut into wedges or pre-cut the wedges and peel them off individually (starting to peel from the middle, where the dough is rather thick, worked best for me).
Heat about 2-3 cm (~ 1 inch) of oil in a large frying pan (I used a wok) until shimmering hot, then fry the Panelle over medium to high heat in various batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Turn them occasionally until they are crisp and have gained an even golden brown color (3-5 minutes).
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels, then serve while still hot sprinkled with fleur de sel.
Panelle - Sicilian Chickpea Fritters
Recipe source: adapted from Fabrizia Lanza
Prep time: ~30 minutes
Ingredients (for 4-6 as a snack):
375 g water
125 g chickpea flour/gram flour (sifted)
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
sunflower or olive oil for frying
serve with: fleur de sel