Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Streets Ahead!

Panino di Panelle Speziati al Forno
Bread Roll with Oven-Roasted Savory Garbanzo Bean Paste

Italian cuisine, is most probably the most popular in the world, that much is a given- but apart from pizza and panini, it doesn't really offer much in the way of fast food or snacks... or does it? Travelling further down south, to Sicily, the land of my heritage, we find one wonderful example of street food- Panelle.

These are slices of a thick paste made of chick pea or garbanzo bean flour, with a little chopped parsley, which is boiled and stirred for around 30-40 minutes and then poured out into trays to cool and set- similar to the method for making polenta. On the next day then it is deep fried and served in soft bread rolls, with more, freshly chopped parsley, a pinch of salt and a good, generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Now, where you may imagine, that this is a very bland and boring affair- let me ensure you that it may indeed be simple, but that it is utterly delicious! It definitely beats a hamburger hands down- at least in my books!

I am all for traditional food and I do also cook traditionally- no question of it. But I see no merit in my recounting and re-writing something that can already be found elsewhere many times over. No- I decided to make a more elaborate and flavorful version and to oven-bake it rather than deep-fat frying. And yes indeed- it was much tastier, as well as being a lot healthier and relatively fat-free. Wanna know how? Ok... here we go!

The basic method is to stir cold water into the chick-pea flour until it becomes a smooth paste, then to add plenty of finely chopped parsley, a little salt and pepper and to cook at a low heat, for 30-40 minutes, stirring constantly until it thickens and becomes a firm, smooth paste. And that is basically what I did... only, being me, I added a good amount of extra ingredients into the paste, so that it would be infused with great flavor by the time I came to finish off my dish. I added caraway and fennel seeds, orange zest and nutmeg and a tiny hint of cinnamon.

After 30-40 minutes, spread the chick-pea paste out onto a greased baking tin to about 1" in thickness and allow to cool and firm over night. The consistency is, I'm afraid, going to be a matter of trial and error- but if you find that the paste has not set firmly the next morning... be patient and wait it out. Unless, you decide to bake the panelle in the oven like I did- which takes a little longer, but which will also dehydrate the paste nicely and help it to firm up more quickly. Mine took around 20 minutes in all, with an additional 2-3 minutes under the broiler to give it a great color.

I served mine on a sesame roll with more, freshly-chopped parsley and a very generous squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkle of sea salt and of red chili pepper... delicious! Enjoy it while it's piping hot! I have to admit that I really did like this more than the deep fried version from "back home"... give it a go and you may just well be surprised!

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