Chick Peas Fritters
When I lived
in Palermo, the panellari (the makers
and sellers of panelli) were a local
In my hometown, this trade is patronized almost by everyone, by the rich and the poor, by the college professor and
In the old days, the panellari were located only within the city
limits ofPalermo. They were situated in strategic sites in every neighborhood and
ready to do business early in the morning.
consisted of a small storefront with a window on the street, and inside, there was enough room for a big cauldron
with boiling oil, a counter to make the panelle and a perforated
aluminum pan to hold and drain the excess oil from the panelle and to
rest the ravaccine (the skimmers).
They made and
sold panelle, potato croquettes, and rascature, which were made of thick chickpea dough that had become too hard to
they cooked i fedde, fried sliced eggplants, and quaglie (“quails”), a small fried eggplant partially cut into lengthwise
sticks less than 1 inch thick and held together by the uncut top of the eggplant. With a little imagination, the
when they opened out, looked like a quail’s feathers or a
As you will
realize from the recipe that follows, the panelle are simple and easy
The ingredients are
chickpea flour, salt and water. It may seem spare, but a treat made of fresh soft bread stuffed with
panelle can be a delightful breakfast or
a delicious lunch, as was the custom of every family in Palermo.
When I was
going to elementary and high school, I bought pane
e panelle from a stand parked near my school; it became
my preferred snack for its taste and because of the reasonable price, which coincided with my limited
preferred two panelli stores: one located at La Vucciria
and Giacomino located in Via Alloro. Panelli can be
bought in shops located on every corner of the city.
Today, the panelle are made all overSicily and are served as an appetizer.
In the United
States, the panelle were introduced around 1910 by the owner of La
Focacceria on First Avenue in Manhattan, and in Brooklyn, around 1920 by Mr. Paul Benfante, who opened a shop on
Degraw Street; a few years later he moved his shop to Union Street and Hicks Street.
When cooking at Joe’s of Avenue U, in Brooklyn, we prepared panelle, among
other Sicilian specialties, and people from the five boroughs and nearby towns came to buy them. We produced them
in large quantities and frequently sold out all we had prepared for the day.
To make about 40 panelle using the traditional molds (or 12 panelle using 7 ¼-inch dessert dishes):
1 lb sifted chickpea
1 quart + 1 cup
½ teaspoon salt
To make about 20 panelle using the traditional molds
(or 6 panelle using 7 ¼-inch dessert dishes):
1 cup of chickpea
1 ½ cups water
Pinch of salt
of the Chickpeas
In a 4-quart
saucepan, combine the water, chickpea flour and salt.
whisk, mix until smooth and without lumps.
heat, bring to a boil, mixing continuously.
Lower the heat when mixture starts to bubble, stirring continuously and cooking for about 10 minutes, until you get
a semi-solid and homogeneous mixture. Do not leave pot unattended and stir continuously.
To enhance and give a different dimension to the panelle, add chopped
parsley and/or black peppers before removing pan from the stove.
Remove pot from the heat and smear the mixture on the traditional molds, made of wood rectangles 2 ½ inches by 4
inches by ¾ inch thick. When mixture has cooled, detach from the molds. Molds must be soaked in water
If you do not have the wooden molds, pour mixture on top of a clean and wet marble or Formica countertop, spread it
to less than a quarter of an inch thick and when it has cooled, cut into triangular or square shapes.
dishes (7 ¼-inch dishes) can be used by spreading the mixture, and when the panelle cool off, cut each piece into four.
Over medium heat, pour ½ cup of oil into a 12-inch skillet, heat oil to 375 degrees and before it starts to smoke,
cook the panelle as you would fry cutlets.
When it turns
a golden color on one side, turn and cook the other side. Place panelle on paper towels to drain. Serve hot.
The “Panelle Special”
At our Focacceria, on Avenue U inBrooklyn , we served the
Panelle Special: a delicious sandwich made in a soft roll stuffed with
panelle, covered with ricotta and cheese and lightly
The Panelle Molds
The traditional molds to make panelle are made of wood rectangles 2 ½
inches by 4 inches by ¾ inch thick. The preferred wood is beech pine because it is solid and heavy, but maple or
birch could be used.
I am enclosing a picture of molds that we made a few years ago at Joe's of Avenue U "La Focacceria Palermitana" in
The molds are made of maple, using a plank 2 13/16 inches wide and ¾ of an inch thick. We cut it into 4-inch pieces
and had a friend, who was an amateur woodworker, apply the engraving as per the photo.
The engraving is not essential to the finality of the molds.
The type of wood used is very important, as it would prevent chipping and the splintering or
flaking of the wood into the panelle.