Last spring I posted a recipe for these Italian chick pea and veggie fritters, known as “panelle” in Sicily, only to be scolded by my Sicilian friend and chef, Andre, who insisted this was absolutely, positively NOT PANELLE. True panelle is plain, a little bit thinner, and sometimes cut into a different shape. My addition of vegetables and herbs was completely sacrilegious, and according to Andre, the people of Sicily would have me stoned at the mere mention of such a thing.
I thought I was being cool by adding to and slightly changing the recipe to make it a little more interesting (and healthy!), but I should have known better than to think that would ever be acceptable by Italian standards. They were still delicious, though. Doesn’t that count for something?
Like any good Italian, Andre’s scolding was promptly followed by a freshly fried homemade batch of the real deal, on the house, which Chaser and I gobbled up within seconds. Never did I ever think this would be such a big deal, but again, I should know by now how protective Italians are of their cuisine. Lesson learned. Semantics! Sheesh.
This recipe is for the Northern Italian equivalent of panelle, called farinata, and this time I’m not messing with it. A version of farinata is also commonly sold in the south of France where they call it “socca”. Now before I get myself in trouble, let me clarify that while panelle and farinata are similar, they are not the same thing. Panelle are cut into squares and deep fried, while farinata is cooked in a wide pan in a blazing hot wood fired hot oven. They vary a bit in their overall texture and flavor, but generally speaking, they’re pretty close. Same ingredients, but very different cooking techniques.
I happen to like this recipe better than panelle (sorry Sicilians), because and only because it’s way, way easier to make. With panelle, first you cook a thick, pasty dough from chick pea flour and water, spread it into a pan, refrigerate, then cut into pieces and deep fry. That’s a lot of work for a snack. Farinata, on the other hand, has you whisk together a simple, uncooked batter of chick pea flour and water, and then pour it into a scorching hot pan and cook for a few minutes in a wood fired oven – in our case we’ll do it under the broiler – until it’s browned and slightly charred. That’s it.
I’ve been living off of these things ever since I embarked on my cleanse. While they may be a bit indulgent with all that olive oil, they’re still totally gluten free, vegan, sugar free and loaded with fiber and protein. They make an excellent substitute for bread when served with soups and dishes that require a little sopping and/or scooping of sauce, and they also make a decent base for a gluten free pizza of sorts.
Farinata is unbelievably satisfying on a cold winter’s day when all you want to do is dive head first into something soft and doughy (with crispy edges!), and cranking the oven up that high is merely a bonus.
- 1/2 cup chick pea flour
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- flaky sea salt for sprinkling, such as Maldon
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and place an 8-inch cast iron skillet inside to heat up.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the chick pea flour and salt, then slowly stream in the water as you whisk. Continue whisking until no lumps remain, then whisk in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside to rest as the oven heats up. This can be done up to 12 hours in advance if desired - keep it covered.
- When the oven is hot, remove the pan and add the remaining olive oil. Swirl it around to coat the entire pan, then pour the batter over and give it another swirl to make sure it coats the entire bottom. You can use a spatula to spread it out evenly need be.
- Place it on top rack of the oven and then turn on the broiler, keeping the door cracked if need be to keep the oven from cycling off. Keep an eye on it as it cooks and when it's nicely browned and slightly charred on top, it's done.
- Slice into wedges and serve immediately.
- This recipe can be easily scaled up to fit a bigger pan. You can add optional flavorings such as rosemary, garlic, onions, cayenne, etc. Just don't tell any Italians.