Vegetarians and vegans often must give something up. Not in Sicily! Local cuisine is full of recipes that are perfect even for the most strict diets. Here are five proposals of the Palermo street tradition, all free of animal products.
Chickpea flour, water, salt and a handful of parsley: as simple as they are tasty, panelle are a fried specialty, of Saracen origin. Giuseppe Pitrè writes about panelle in the chapter about the feast of Saint Lucia, when traditionally bread and pasta are not eaten and therefore these fritters are an ideal substitute.
Among other things, we read that, at the time, panelle had various shapes and were called pisci-panelli (that is fish-panelle) in honor of the shape of fish that seems to have been the original one. Panelle, served very hot in a round sandwich or in a mafalda (elongated bread loaf), are often accompanied by crocchè (croquettes) of potatoes, while rascatura is prepared with what remains in the pan after frying the panelle. Obviously only for those who do not have cholesterol issues!
Calia and simenza
Aristophanes, observing the audience watching the show on the prestigious stage of the Syracuse Theater, observed that they did nothing “other than eat roasted chickpeas and carob beans all the time”. A note that dates back to at least the 4th century BC. the habit of passatiempu (pastime).
This is the name Sicilians use for the crunchy mix of toasted chickpeas and toasted pumpkin seeds that they nibble on any festive occasion. The small and big stands full of calia and simenza are a fixed presence at all religious and non-religious Sicilian feasts.
Boiled and battered vegetables
Typically in winter / spring, boiled vegetables are easily found mainly in the greengrocers of the old center. In large pots full of water, they boil potatoes and artichokes which they will hand you in a foil lined with greaseproof paper. Usually the people of Palermo buy then to take them home, where they will eat them, seasoned with a little olive oil and salt.
Even if nothing prevents you from biting them immediately, we cannot call them street food. Instead we can certainly define street food – or even better beach food – the pollanca, that is the cob of corn. It is boiled in large pots as well and sold as a snack to the bathers on the beach of Mondello.
Vegetables in batter, that give their best when freshly made, are also street food. Seeing them emerge hot from the fryers of the city rotisseries, ready to be bitten (with a little caution, given the temperature), will make any mouth water. Especially fried thistles are a delicacy!
Prepared with toasted almonds and sugar, skilfully modeled with long spatulas on a marble slab, torrone is another important specialty prepared on occasion of town feasts. It is particularly linked to the Christmas period but actually available in every season. The pleasure is greatest when you meet the peddler intent on preparing it. The scent is intoxicating, and you can enjoy it luke warm and fragrant.
Sicilian torrone is very hard – be careful, it takes a good set of teeth to face it without danger! – and technically its name is minnulata. This is also one of the specialties Sicilian have inherited from the Saracen Middle Ages.
Granita and sorbet were first prepared in Sicily during the Middle Ages. The Arabs taught how to flavor the snow which, in winter, was collected in the mountains and kept in deep caves plastered with straw, the so-called neviere. Fortunately, today the preparation is less laborious, but the recipe has actually not changed.
The queen of the granite is that made of lemon, but the flavors are many, starting with gelsi (mulberries), whose appearance marks the arrival of summer. Even if the purists claim that only the one from Messina is “real” granita, I have tasted delicious granita in Palermo and in many other places (maybe they prepare it based on the Messina recipe!).