serves: 8 or more
Frigitterie, found all over Palermo, means things fried, and the selections are endless. Breaded eggplant, broccoli, artichokes, all of the vegetables in season are coated with a flour paste (pastella) and find their way into a fryer. In Palermo one of the undisputed specialties is panella, made of chickpea flour cooked like a polenta, chilled, and then cut into thick slices that are fried in olive oil. Fried panelle are eaten as is or multiple slices are piled in a sesame bun and enjoyed as a big sandwich.
While panelle can make a great accompaniment to fish or meat, everybody loves them when passed around as an hors d'oeuvre. Convenient to prepare in advance, they can be cooked up in a big batch, left to cool in the sheet pan, then refrigerated for up to 3 days. You can cut out a few panelle and fry them for a snack or side dish whenever you want. If you're serving bite-size panelle for a cocktail party, I suggest you fry all the pieces ahead of time and keep them warm in the oven until your guests arrive.
4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the sheet and for frying
½ pound chickpea flour
Pour the water, salt, and olive oil into the saucepan and gradually whisk in the chickpea flour until smooth. Set over medium heat and whisk constantly as the batter slowly heats. It will thicken and eventually steam but does not need to boil. Cook and keep whisking, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan frequently, until the mixture is quite stiff and starts to pull away from the sides as you stir it, 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn the batter into the oiled pan and spread it quickly with the spatula, before it cools and sets, so it fills the pan in an even layer. Wet the spatula with water and smooth the top of the batter. Let cool for an hour or longer, until completely firm.
Cut pieces with a sharp knife, in whatever size or shape you like and in the amount you need. I cut 1-1/2 inch squares for appetizers and Sicilian-style sandwiches; 2- by 3-inch bars-at least 2 per person-to accompany a main course. Lift the cut pieces from the pan with a spatula (seal the remainder with plastic wrap and refrigerate for longer keeping.)
To fry the panelle, pour enough extra-virgin olive oil into the heavy skillet to cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of oil and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, lay in the panelle leaving plenty of space between them. Fry about 3 minutes until the underside is crisp and golden, then flip them over and brown the second side, about 2 minutes more. Set the panelle on paper towels to drain and cool for a minute but serve while they are still warm (though they taste good at room temperature too!).