🇮🇹 Italy | Pane e Panelle (Sicilian Chickpea Fritter Sandwiches)

RECIPE: Panelle | Mania Bedda

When I started this project I didn’t realise I’d be exposing my unabashed love for chickpea flour, but here is the romantic subplot no one asked for. In the first week.

I’ve been using chickpea flour (also known as gram, besan, or garbanzo bean flour) to make a savoury breakfast pancake for a few years now. In what can only be described as very preliminary recipe research, I’ve already identified three different countries on three different continents which have a chickpea flour forward snack, and you know I’ll be making all three (plus any additional ones I find along the way).

Pane e Panelle is a Sicilian street food found predominantly in Palermo (insert supercut of every time Quentin from White Lotus said ‘Palerrrmo’), and the first panelle were thought to have been made between the 9th and 11th century, so this is a recipe with history.

Preparation of the chickpea fritters requires three steps. Heat and mix. Set. Fry.

The only step which requires much effort is the first – you have to continuously whisk the water, chickpea flour, and salt mixture over a medium heat until it starts to solidify and come away from the sides of the pan. It gets quite viscous all of a sudden and requires a bit of elbow grease to keep mixing it until you’re at the right consistency.

After this stage it’s pretty low maintenance, allowing it to cool and set (I did it in the fridge overnight, but you can just leave it on the counter for an hour or so) and then slice into squares and fry on either side for 2-3 minutes.

They can be eaten straight from the pan as a snack or appetizer, however, if you’re looking for something heartier you can whack a few fritters onto a fresh bread roll. I had some ciabatta rolls in the house and used those, but I read somewhere that if you were to get one of these on the streets of Palermo it would be on a soft, fresh roll with a blush of sesame seeds on top.

The salty, crispy, fried outside of the panelle gives way to a soft and delicate center. Combined with the bread it’s a meal which sticks to your ribs and I – a very big grazer throughout the day – didn’t think about eating again until lunchtime after making this for breakfast.

I will make these again. While simple on the surface, the final product is more delicious and complex than expected, and the fritters alone would easily lend themselves to a number of other dishes eg: add fried eggplant, tahini, and amba and make a vegan sabich. There are also numerous condiments which would take this sandwich into another direction – think a spicy muhamarra, or caramelised onions, or even a picante fresh salsa. However, given how the original recipe has lasted through the centuries it clearly doesn’t need innovation and I recommend giving it a try as is.