History and recipe of panelle, Palermo street food specialties. Ten addresses where you can find the best ones. And the recipe for making them at home
You cannot visit Palermo without letting yourself be inebriated by the intense and unique taste of a sandwich with panelle, one of the most representative specialties of street food of the Sicilian capital. It is about pancakes based on chickpea flour, prepared with water, parsley and cooked in boiling seed oil. Variable in shape and size – the most common is the rectangular one – they are served hot and seasoned with salt and lemon. Very easy to prepare at home, even if the Palermitans love to consume them in a soft sesame sandwich – muffoletta, mafalda or always fresh – prepared by panellaro, a street vendor equipped with a bee motorcycle called a lapino. "In most cases," he says Gaetano Lombardo, author of the book Crocchè, the panellaro will also offer you the crocchè (potato croquettes): bread, panelle and crocchè together form a truly unbeatable team, that of the triple carbohydrate from Palermo .
The panelle yesterday
According to scholars, the origin of the panelle is to be attributed to the Saracen influence in Sicily. As the chef from Palermo tells us Veronica Schiera "The Arabs were well acquainted with the technique of grinding legumes: they obtained a flour to which they added water and the dough was then cooked in vertical ovens. It was then the Angevins who experimented with frying at a later time . And they are the protagonists of an amusing legend connected to panelle: during the Sicilian revolt against French domination, the Palermo people to unmask foreign soldiers stopped passers-by and forced them to say the word "ciciri" (chickpeas in dialect, legumes at the base of the panelle) and if this was pronounced with the typical rolled r, they were immediately captured. From the writings of the scholar of Sicilian folk traditions Giuseppe Pitre, we discover instead that in the nineteenth century the panelle were called "piscipanelli" (fish-ball) because they are characterized by an oval shape that resembled that of fish, thus giving the illusion to the Palermitans of the popular class of eating fried fish (in the past only the prerogative of of the rich). Another curiosity is that they were eaten on December 13 for the feast of Saint Lucia, a day on which, out of devotion, neither bread nor pasta is eaten: the traditional binge of arancine had not yet established itself. We therefore have two certainties regarding the origin of the panelle: the first is that they were born as food for the poor, to appease hunger, and then that they were bought from street vendors' stalls: "They were one of the street foods par excellence", he specifies Maria Oliveri, passionate about history, art and anthropology. "Prepared by men for other men, usually porters, workers, bricklayers, apprentices: in short, men of toil."
The panelle today
Thin, crunchy and hot: still today – and fortunately – panelle remain an indestructible and intergenerational myth, particularly appreciated also by travelers visiting Palermo. The advice is to try them with the typical sandwich, preferably a mafalda or an everfresco, "enriched", adds Maria Oliveri, "with a lot of lemon juice, a tender illusion that this expedient is enough to degrease the grease from frying. It can be accompanied by potato croquettes (crocchè) season with a little mint or with fried eggplant slices. It is easily found in the fried food shops, in the historic markets and in the alleys of old Palermo .
Panella, despite being a very poor food, still has its own substitute, very humble and delicious, which is the rascatura. Today the dough is mostly poured into molds and then sliced when it has cooled. In ancient times, when it was spread quickly on the molds, despite the speed of action, a good part of the dough solidified on the pot. Thus was born the rascatura: this remaining dough was "rascato", or scraped, mixed with fresh onion, cheese and herbs, formed into croquettes and fried. Because the good Sicilian tradition teaches that nothing in the kitchen should be wasted.
From Genoa to Palermo
Curious is the connection that sees them linked Palermo panelle and the Ligurian panissa. The ingredients are in fact the same: chickpea flour, water and salt. The panissa is cut into strips, fried and wrapped in a foil to be consumed hot among the alleys, the characteristic Ligurian alleys. Nothing strange if we consider that the commercial relations between Liguria and Sicily, on the two opposite shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, have always been very intense. Palermo has played a leading political and economic role in the Mediterranean basin for centuries and was frequented by the Genoese community which had its point of reference in the "Mercatorum Chapel" of the church of San Francesco d'Assisi and in the church of San Giorgio dei Genovesi. , a few steps from the port. Just as in Liguria the traditional cult of Saint Rosalia, patron saint of Palermo, is very widespread. The panissa in turn derives from the farinata, already known in Roman times: a mixture based on water and chickpea flour. A Genoese legend tells that the recipe was born by chance in 1284, after the battle of Meloria. The ships of the Genoese, which had defeated the Pisans, found themselves in the middle of a storm on the open sea. A few barrels of oil and sacks of chickpeas overturned, soaking themselves in salt water. Since supplies were scarce, the crew tried to recover the purée of chickpea flour that had been created by chance with bowls, which was then left to dry in the sun. The next day the sailors, driven by hunger pangs, ate the contents of the bowls, discovering all its goodness.
The recipe of Maria Oliveri's panelle Palermo
Ingredients for 40 panelle
500 g chickpea flour
20 g fine salt
1.5 l of water and
Pour the chickpea flour into a large pot, add the salt and mix by pouring water slowly with a whisk so as not to create lumps. Arrange over medium heat, remembering to stir until the liquid mixture stiffens. When the flour begins to thicken, mix with more energy. It will take about 30 minutes to get to the right degree of consistency. Once you have obtained a homogeneous mixture, turn off the heat. Take a little of the mixture and with a spatula spread it on a marble surface, until a thickness of 4-5 mm is obtained. Leave to cool slightly. Trim the edges using a knife, trying to obtain a precise rectangle about 5 cm high and cut into rectangles about 10 cm wide. Repeat the operation, spreading more dough on the side and making other panelle. Heat abundant oil in a pan. Dip the panelle a little at a time and cook both sides until golden (it will take about 3 minutes). In this way the classic "shirt" will be formed and the panelle will be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Drain and place on absorbent paper. They can be enjoyed alone or in a sandwich (5 panelle per sandwich), the important thing is that they are always hot.
Wine pairing: panelle and rosé
For the wine pairing we play at home: "The crunchiness and flavor of the panelle", he says Costanza Chirivino by Sallier del La Tour, «goes well with a Sicilian rosé, like our Madamarosè, obtained from the vinification of Syrah grapes grown on the family estate on the hills of Doc Monreale, a few kilometers from Palermo .
The proposal of the chef Veronica Schiera
A goodness that everyone likes, not prepared by the panellari or at home. In fact, even the chefs cannot resist the temptation to offer panelle on their plates. As happens in the bistro The Angelics, in the heart of the historic Capo di Palermo market. "Our cooking philosophy," he says Veronica Schiera, «Is based on the recovery of ancient Sicilian recipes and panelle is never lacking on the menu. We recently created an appetizer with warm and crunchy panelle paired with marinated anchovies and candied lemon. And then also a dish based on rascatura: a millefeuille of discs of this mixture obtained from solidified panelle and seasoned with onion, parsley, caciocavallo alternating with mullet fillets cooked at low temperature and courgette pesto.
10 addresses where you can eat the best panelle in Palermo
Friggitoria da Davide – Via Croce Rossa 199
The success of young Davide's frying shop in recent years has been incredible, from his beginnings in 2016 as a street vendor to his participation in 2019 in the episode of 4 Restaurants by Alessandro Borghese dedicated to Palermo street food. The highlight to try? Obviously the panelle.
Sandwich shop Chiluzzo – Piazza Kalsa 11
The sandwich with Chiluzzo panelle, in the ancient Kalsa district, is always a certainty. To be eaten strictly on the spot together with the "locals" or lying on the nearby lawn of the Foro Italico looking at the sea.
Antica Focacceria San Francesco – Via Alessandro Paternostro 58
Bulwark of popular Palermo cuisine and street food. In addition to the historic headquarters, founded in 1834, other Antica Focacceria San Francesco signs are located in various Italian cities including Rome, Milan and Florence.
Nnì Franco ù Vastiddaru – Via Vittorio Emanuele 102
Name known and appreciated by Palermo and tourists also thanks to the happy position along the ancient Cassaro. Open from morning to evening, you can order a sandwich with takeaway panelle or take a seat in the outdoor area on the side of Piazza Marina.
Focacceria Testagrossa – Corso Calatafimi 91
Open every day, all day, in this fryer you will find not only the unmissable panelle, but also focaccia, crocchè and sandwiches with spleen.
Da Aurelio (ex Don Totò) – Via Isaac Rabin
Salvatore Speciale, called Don Totò, was considered the king of the sandwich with panelle in Palermo. Disappeared at the age of 84 in 2019, his memory is now carried forward by his heirs, with the historic lapino (the bee motorbike used by street vendors) in front of the Cascino Barracks, in the Fiera area.
Testaverde Gastronomy – Via Lorenzo Iandolino 6/7
The Testaverde brothers have been operating in Partanna Mondello for years. Also open on Sunday for lunch, it offers the great classics of street food: sandwiches with spleen, panelle, grilled sandwiches, crocchè and rotisserie mignon.
Antica Friggitoria Fratelli Caruso – Corso dei Mille 803
Since the 1950s this family-run business has specialized in local gastronomy and street food. The panelle, to be eaten strictly with the soft sandwich, are very popular with loyal customers.
Qcinu at Sanlorenzo Mercato – Via San Lorenzo 288
As for the new openings, we point out the oven inside Sanlorenzo Mercato: the sandwich with panelle and crocchè, prepared espresso, is always the ideal choice for a tasty break at any time of the day.
Ke Palle – Via Maqueda 270
A contemporary format, with several outlets in the city, specializing in arancine. Excellent stop to taste the other street food specialties: bread and panelle, bread with spleen, sfincionelli and fried calzoni.
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