Today I want to talk about one of the latest crazes in the food world: chickpea fries. Gluten free, higher in protein than regular fries and utterly delicious. Meeting the standards of many new diet fads, it’s easy to see why they’re so popular. But… can I just say something here? Chickpea fries are not new.
This is not a new invention my friends because guess what? The Italians have been eating chickpea fries for ages, they just haven’t bothered to tell us about it. Those sneaky Italians…
Generally speaking, I’d venture out and say that Italians are usually behind the times when it comes to progress. For example, it was only a few years ago that supermarkets started staying open on Sunday in Italy and that more restaurants started accepting debit cards as a form of legitimate payment. Despite their medieval and archaic ways, there are two things that Italians have really got goin’ on: food and fashion. Trust me, when it comes to dressing and eating, they know what they are doing better than anyone else.
Chickpea fries are no exception. There are many different forms of ‘chickpea fries’ in Italy. In Southern Italy they’re known as panelle and are served in the shape of little flat squares. In Liguria (and even in some parts of France) they’re called panisse or panissa, and are usually thicker and shaped more like a rectangular block. There’s also farinata, a sort of chickpea flatbread, which is also typical of Liguria and some parts of Tuscany.
I first discovered Italian chickpea fries or panisse during one my first weekends in Genoa. Some friends and I were having an aperitivo somewhere by the port and the waiter brought us a few munchies with our Spritz cocktails. One of these munchies was panisse. We didn’t know what it was, but after eating them all in a matter of seconds, we thought we ought to ask the waiter about this delicious concoction.
Since then, I’ve eaten panisse chickepea fries on numerous occassions, but they seem to be particularly popular as a street food or when there’s alcohol involved. I suppose it’s the equivalent of fries and beer…something about the salty fritters that just works on festive, boozy occassions.
Last Tuesday was All Saint’s Day, a federal holiday in Italy. For me, holidays in the middle of the week translate as binge watching TV programs in pajamas while eating whatever one wants. On this particular holiday, I wanted fried food. Obviously, being Italy, there aren’t really any restaurants open on federal holidays so you are sort of forced to cook even if you don’t want to.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love cooking (uh, can you tell?) but when it comes to fried food it rarely happens in my kitchen. It’s not that I don’t like eating it (who doesn’t like eating fried food?) it’s that I hate the mess that it makes. I usually end up with flour and egg mixture strewn about the kitchen and oil spatters all over the counter (and my face, UGH). By the time I finish frying, the kitchen looks like a war zone, I’m utterly exhausted and I just feel like taking a shower to wash away all the grease that has coated my hair and pores. Let’s just say I usually leave the fried stuff to someone else and try to spare my kitchen and facial pores from total disaster.
Yet last tuesday was an exception. I was sitting there in my pajamas staring at my pantry. I saw that I had chickpea flour and vegetable oil and well it’s not like I was going anywhere in my pajamas so I thought, “Ah what the heck, let me give these chickpea fries a whirl!”. I meticulousy read up on a few recipes, taking a few tips from each, and then I just went for it.
You know what? They turned out pretty darn good. Actually, really good. So good I think I ate them like popcorn. I am also proud to say that I did not completely destroy the kitchen. Actually I didn’t really make much of a mess at all because, my dear friends, making these chickpea fries is really not all that messy. Seriously, they are SUPER EASY to make and you can prepare most of the recipe ahead of time (plenty of time to take a shower or watch an episode of Masterchef on TV or do whatever it is you’d like to do on holidays).
1 cup chickpea flour (aka garbanzo bean flour)
Salt, to taste
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups water
½ – 1 liter oil for frying (I recommend vegetable or seed oil as olive oil will burn quicker)
Line a small baking dish or container (I used an 8×8 tupperware container) with parchment paper. Add a drop of oil and spread evenly throughout the container.
In medium sized sauce pan, add chickpea flour, a pinch of salt, olive oil and water. Whisk together until mixture is well-blended. There will be a few lumps – don’t worry, they will come out later. Heat mixture of medium low heat whisking continuously. When the mixture becomes too difficult to whisk, you can switch to a large spoon or spatula. Continue mixing for several minutes until the mixture is thick and homogeneous. You might still have a few lumps – that’s okay. It should resemble the consistency of polenta.
Pour mixture into the greased container and spread evenly. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 48 hours.
When you are ready to cook your chickpea fries, heat oil in a large frying pan. Oil should be about 1 ½ inches in the pan. Remove mixture from fridge and gently turn the container upside on a cutting board or parchment lined counter. The mixture should be hard and almost like a thick gelatin. Using a large knife, cut the mixture into desired shapes. The classic panisse shape is a rectangular cube about 1 inch thick and 2-3 inches long, but they don’t have to be perfect.
When the oil reaches 350 degrees F, you can start frying. If you don’t have a thermometer just do what I do and test a small piece of the mixture. If the oil starts bubbling up around the mixture, you know it’s ready.
Fry your panisse in small batches (don’t crowd the pan!) for about 3-5 minutes. After a 2-3 minutes, flip the panisse in the pan so they fry evenly. When they’re golden brown remove from oil using a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined pan to cool.
Sprinkle with salt generously. Chop up fresh rosemary and sage and sprinkle on top just before serving.
*Although the classic panisse are served plain and simple with just salt and pepper, you can really flavor these fries however you like. If you want to add garlic to the mixture, go for it. The same for a dipping sauce. You can use ketchup or, as my friend suggested, a greek yogurt dip would work well too.