This last Friday night, while attending the David Gross show at the Hilliard Gallery, our group went to Extra Virgin, a Michael Smith restaurant here in Kansas City. One of the appetizer menu items served were chickpea fingers. They did not resemble the Panella I learned to love while in Sicily. Where Michael’s were thick and pale in color, the Sicilian panella are thin, crispy and golden brown!
Panella (also spelled panelle and panelli) is a Sicilian savory fritter made with a finely-ground flour from ceci or chickpeas. Sold at street stands and street markets in Palermo, fried panella are eaten as is, or multiple slices are piled in a sesame roll and enjoyed as a sandwich. Panella are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Serve panella as a snack or as a side dish similar to polenta crostini. Sometimes we were served a little warm tomato sauce on the side for dipping the Panella.
It didn’t take me long to figure out a plate of Panella and a glass of Sicily’s Nero D'Avola made for a happy cocktail hour!
Nero D'Avola is Sicily’s most well known wine. The Nero D'Avola grape is grown from one end of Sicily to the other, with the finest growing on the slopes of Mt. Etna. An interesting fact about this grape is until the 1980s, commercial use of Nero d'Avola was dedicated almost exclusively to fortifying weaker reds in France and northern Italy. In the past Nero d'Avola, like other Sicilian reds, was often syrupy, with an alcohol content reaching eighteen percent --too strong as table wines. The name, which literally means "Avola Black," is a good description.
New viticulture techniques and night harvesting --placing the grapes in cooled vats to prevent premature fermentation-- have been used by a few vintners to retain flavor without producing an overpowering wine. (The idea of night harvesting is interesting to me. So often September here in Kansas is HOT! Night harvesting would definitely be cooler for the pickers, and serving a late night supper out in the vines, complete with candle light and soft Mediterranean music, sounds heavenly to me! One question….how do you find the grapes in the dark!?)
We were served Nero d'Avola everywhere we went. I was okay with that, as long as we had Panella too! Here in the good old USA, I’ll take Flyboy Red! It is a perfect match for Panella! But then, so is Oktoberfest, that crisp fruity white I love to pair with food. Decisions, decisions!
1 cup chickpea flour
2 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil for frying
In a bowl combine the flour and water until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan over medium-low heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Spread it quickly before it cools with a spatula onto a baking sheet.
You want an even layer that is 1/2 inch thick. Try to spread it into a rectangle or square which will make it easier to cut later. Dip your spatula into some water and smooth the top of the dough.
Allow to cool completely, about 1 hour.
Cut into 3-inch squares.
Heat about 1/2-inch of olive oil in a large skillet. Use a spatula to lift the squares off of the baking sheet. Fry the panella 2 to 3 minutes per side until crisp and golden.
Transfer panella to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with salt, if desired, and serve.