I love panelle (Sicilian fritters) in any form, but perhaps my favorites are served in carts in the Vucciria market in Palermo, Italy. The addition of corn and zucchini as a salsa would seem superfluous to a true Siciliana, but makes a lot of sense to me.
This classic Italian street food is made with a base of chickpea flour, also called garbanzo bean flour or gram, which is an amazing wheat alternative for impressing your gluten-free friends. Creamy garbanzo beans are ground into a fine, protein-rich powder, widely available at most local markets. Similar to polenta, chickpea flour transforms into a porridge-like consistency when mixed with boiling water and solidifies as it cools. The flour’s versatility extends beyond even savory and into baked goods; think vegan meringues or Paleo treats, if that’s your jam.
Be sure to refrigerate these panelle rounds for 30 minutes so they hold their shape when fried. To keep the panelle intact as the golden disks of glory they so deliciously are, delicately remove them from the oil with a spider (utensil) or slotted spatula.
As with many fried foods, panelle are best when served hot and paired with something bright, zesty and acidic. I use this season’s very best vegetables in my salsa, which includes corn, zucchini and tomatoes, plus added jalapenos for that same kick of heat you’d find at street vendor on the summer streets of Sicily.
Panelle with Zucchini and Corn Salsa
For the salsa
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ears corn, husked, kernels cut from cobs
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice, with juices and seeds
1/2 red onion, cut into 1/8-inch dice
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
For the panelle
1 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups cold water
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (1/4 cup), plus more for garnish, if desired
1 quart extra-virgin olive oil, for frying (you may use less than this amount, but have it ready)
Make the corn salsa: In a cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil until smoking. Toss in the corn and the zucchini and do not move it for 2 minutes — be patient. After 2 minutes, shake the pan twice to move the vegetables and continue to cook for 2 minutes more. The corn and zucchini should have a nice char on a couple of sides. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl. Add the rest of the salsa ingredients and mix gently. Set aside.
Make the panelle: In a 4- to 6-quart saucepan, dissolve the chickpea flour and salt in the water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture has the consistency of cream of wheat, about 20 minutes. Stir in the parsley and spread the mixture onto a baking sheet, flattening it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch, and allow it to cool. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of cooking oil in a high-sided frying pan to 375 degrees. Fry the chickpea discs, four or five at a time, until golden brown, 30 to 45 seconds. Carefully remove them from the oil using a spider or a slotted spatula (tongs will tear them), and drain on paper towels.
Serve the panelle: Serve the dish hot. Season the salsa with salt, and serve on the side. You can also spoon over the top of and sprinkle with parsley if desired. Serves 4.
Per serving: 354 calories; 23 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 58 percent calories from fat); 32 g carbohydrates; 11 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 592 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 6 g fiber.