Last month I attended a special dinner at Rialto featuring dishes from Fabrizia Lanza’s wonderful 2012 COMING HOME TO SICILY. Everything was cooked by the Rialto Team, under Fabrizia’s direction, whom Jody had met years ago on a biking adventure in Italy. You may know Fabrizia as the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, founder of the famed Sicilian cooking school Case Vecchie. Art historian turned passionate cook and cultural advocate for her native land, Fabrizia now leads Case Vecchie, writes about Sicilian food and is building a video archive of Sicilians engaged in culinary traditions increasingly imperiled as the outside world seeps into island life.
As usual, I got held up, arrived late for the dinner, and slid into my chair with a longing glance toward everyone else’s empty appetizer plates. At that moment Fabrizia, a slender patrician woman who looked as though she might have as easily discussed the subtleties of Botticelli’s brush technique as she did the culinary pleasures of wild fennel, was giving the room a brief introduction to Sicilian cuisine and I didn’t want to cause a stir by asking anyone to explain what I’d missed. The menu card next to my plate simply identified the course as Panelle. A waiter took pity on me and few moments later set a saucer with two triangles of something in front of me. Without my glasses I might have mistaken them for shortbread. I took a bite. A rich toasty flavor at once comforting and tantalizing elusive filled my mouth. The triangles had thin crispy edges and a bit of creaminess in their thickest part, the center. “What are these?” I asked Jody, who said hi on her way back into the kitchen with Fabrizia. “Chickpea flour,” she said. “And water and salt.” “That’s it?” “That’s it,” she said, “Amazing, aren’t they?” And that is how I had my first taste of the subject of this week’s post, Panelle.