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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Sicilianised foodies

OK, I admit. I am a bit obsessive when it comes to food.
Being devoted foodies, Dean and myself had done almost 50 gourmet trips over the last four years, travelling together in search of the ever illusive meal par excellence. We have eaten pad thai and curries on the streets of Bangkok, sipped High Tea in London, explored the back roads of Tuscany, feasted on roast duck in Beijing, dim sum in Hong Kong, rump-steak in Argentina and so so. We were and still are extremely privileged to be exposed to such a wide range of food and cuisine from around the globe.
But despite this, nothing beats Sicilian food, and especially the street-food.
I will never forget the horrified expression on Dean's face, when we were still dating in Australia and I said I craved street-food. This was of course, before his first visit to Sicily. Forget greasy burgers from a dodgy stall – in Sicily shoppers can eat like kings as they buy their weekly groceries. Once Dean had experienced the unique flavours of such a complex culinary culture. Since then, he had developed a compulsive obsession toward Sicilian food, and in particular toward "his majesty" - as he calls it - the Arancina. He is also slowly turning into a real Sicilian, calling my mamma in typical Sicilian fashion, right after stepping out of the plane to ask her for his favourite sauce. And once home, he eats it like there is no tomorrow.
The list of other Sicilianised individuals is long, like our longtime friend, high-flying merchant banker Phil, who is now addicted to sicilian caponata and begs us to ship the "goodies" to Australia.

If you are a street-food fanatic, then Palermo is for you.
Even food professional Jamie Oliver was stunned at the quality of the food served in Sicily's street markets. Marinated artichoke, fresh salads with olives and ripe tomatoes and fillets of fried fish are just some of the tasty dishes on offer, and I am sure these delicacies would sicilianise even the most exigent, fussy palate.
A perfect example of typical Palermitan street food and another Dean's favourite is "Pane e Panelle":
golden, fried fritters made from ground chickpea flour, water, and parsley.
Surprisingly, I have seen these chickpea fritters in the menu of some of the most elegant Italian restaurants in Sydney. Pane e panelle is a street food and traditionally is eaten standing up and not in a plate with fork and knife. If only Palermitans saw this…
Here's an old recipe from my grandmother, for those who might try and experiment in the kitchen. Enjoy!

Ingredients (make about 30 fritters):

2 1/2 cups (8 ounces) chickpea flour
3 cups water
3 tablespoons finely fresh parsley or oregano (optional)
4 to 6 cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fine ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
vegetable oil


Dissolve the chickpea flour in three cups of cold water and add the salt and the baking powder. Cook and stir it for about 20 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Divide the mixture with a spatula, stack the panelle next to each other and let them cool for a couple of minutes. Heat the vegetable oil to 375F in a flat pan. Fry the panelle until golden. Drain them on paper towel and serve them warm.
A true Palermitano will eat Panelle in a sandwich, with a dash of lemon juice.

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