Last week I had spent an evening at my friend Rosa’s house. Don’t you love a mid-week dinner party? Rosa cooked for a bunch of us, including Ben and my mother-in-law, and we ate and drank and learnt and laughed. And ate cannoli with cherry syrup and pistachio icecream. Not bad for a Thursday night, hey?
You see, Rosa runs cooking demonstrations from her home. I’ve spoken about Rosa’s Table before (in this post), I adore her classes. I adore Rosa. And whenever I attend one of her cooking demonstrations I’m left feeling full. Not just from the scrumptious Sicilian eats, that is a given, but full of the Sicilian spirit. Of warmth and hospitality and gusto…a love of life and a hunger for living well.
Rosa’s Table has just launched a brand new (stunning!) website, so it’s an exciting time for Rosa and her family. Go forth, friends, and explore her site. Dream about Sicilian cuisine, learn to cook this beautiful food yourself and even travel to the little Italian Island with Rosa. Rosa’s Table offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture, the food of Sicily. You might like to also check out this interview with Rosa (and make the rolled turkey breast with fruits and macadamias recipe she provides. It. Is. Divine).
If you’re keen, contact Rosa to attend a cooking demonstration or to join her culinary tour of Sicily. This tour is just phenomenal, as you travel in an intimate group across Sicily meeting Rosa’s family and local food producers, tasting what the incredible Island has to offer and living life the Sicilian way. It will forever change you.
But back to our dinner…
Last week’s demonstration was all about Palermo! Oh, I adore Palermo. It’s fast and gritty and with a special, surprising elegance. You can read about our adventures in Palermo here and come on a little journey right now, as I share snippets from the cooking demonstration and Rosa shares her recipe for panelle. The whole night was dotted with tips and tales from Rosa, her mother and mother-in-law. Here are Rosa’s words…
“Palermo is a city of great beauty, it is like a rainbow. Yellow is for the sun, gold and silver for all its richness. Green is for prosperity, orange, red and purple for its heavenly produce. Blue, yes to me Palermo is blue for its people going about their everyday lives oblivious to this beauty that surrounds them.
A visit to Sicily’s capital city will leave you breathless as you wander the streets being captivated by its splendid cathedrals, architecture and the most vibrant food markets across all of Italy. It is here that you can begin to appreciate the many culinary delights that Sicily has to offer from its street food to its many characteristic restaurants. Of course, amongst all this magic and array of sights and sounds live puppets and princes, symbols of the prosperity and madness that surrounds you.
Tonight’s menu reflects all this and more. Sit back and enjoy a little taste of Palermo. My mother and I hope you enjoy the journey.”
How special is that? Here is the menu that was made right in front of us. The whole night is dotted with tips and tales from Rosa, her mother and mother-in-law. The cannoli, pictured above, were fried using the bamboo rods Rosa’s grandmother gave Rosa’s mother before she left Sicily for Australia as a young woman. Yes, it was all very special. And I’m still dreaming about that swordfish…
♥ Entrée: Panelle
♥ Main: Mint and Pistachio Swordfish
♥ Side: Orange and Fennel Salad
♥ Dessert: Rosa’s mother Pina’s Cannoli with Ricotta, Lemon and Chocolate
Thank you, Rosa, for your food, your passion and your generosity of spirit. And for sharing this recipe today. My mother-in-law has already asked when I will be making the panelle myself. Soon, Sylvia, I can assure you.
Panelle are a common Sicilian street food. They’re thin chickpea fritters which are stuffed into a fresh bread roll. Rosa’s mother-in-law, Josephine, professed her love for these panelle and her memories of getting a roll filled with hot panelle on her way home from school as a girl growing up in Sicily.
To make panelle, a batter of chickpea flour (also called besan flour, found in Supermarkets or Indian grocers), water, salt and herbs is mixed, warmed and thickened, then poured into a flat surface and allowed to cool for at least an hour. When pliable, you cut segments (rectangles or triangles, whatever you desire) and then fry them in hot oil, before serving them in a bread roll with a squeeze of lemon, sprinkle of sea salt and chopped parsley. I know, it sounds great, right? Well, they are even more delicious than you’d expect. Give them a go and get a taste of Sicilian street food.
Makes ~20 fritters (though you can cut them smaller and make double!)
3 cups Chickpea Flour
6 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon Fennel Seeds
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf Parsley
Olive Oil for deep frying
2 Lemons, halved
Bread rolls for serving
1. Rub a cold surface with olive oil, ideally a marble slab or alternatively you can wet 7 large, flat plates with cold water and use them.
2. Place the flour, salt, fennel seeds and parsley into a large heavy-based saucepan and stir until well combined.
3. Pour the water into a saucepan and whisk to avoid lumps.
4. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens (10-15mins). The mixture should just begin to pull away from the sides of the saucepan and remain on the wooden spoon.
5. Spoon out the mixture and spread it wafer thin (~3mm) with a rolling pin or spatula over the prepared surface (marble slab or wet plates – see the picture below for a reference). Allow to cool (~1 hour), then cut into small triangles, squares or rectangles.
6. Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan. Deep fry the fritters ~5 at a time (depending on the size of your pan) until golden, then drain on absorbent paper.
7. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, plus extra herbs. Serve warm in bread rolls (street food style) or on a platter.