Live like a Niçois and snack on the tasty chick­pea frit­ters known as panisses.

These chick­pea frit­ters are a favourite with the a snack or ac­com­pa­ny­ing a stew, says

France - - Contents - Rosa Jack­son

Visit any pasta shop in Nice and you will see golden, saucer-shaped discs along­side sheets of beef-and-chard-filled ravi­oli and green or white tagli­atelle noo­dles. Known as panisses, they look a lit­tle un­pre­pos­sess­ing for a food that in­spired the leg­endary Cal­i­for­nian chef Alice Waters to name her Berke­ley restaurant Chez Panisse. Yet take them home, cut them into thick strips and fry them, and you will un­der­stand why these chick­pea frit­ters cause such en­thu­si­asm.

Like many lo­cal specialities, panisses made their way from Lig­uria to Mar­seille and Nice, both port cities with his­tor­i­cal ties to Italy. The Ge­noese who set­tled here in the 19th cen­tury brought with them bags of chick­pea flour, which al­lowed them to make the crisp pan­cake known as socca in Nice (or far­i­nata in Lig­uria) as well as panisses, which were sold as a snack at the mar­kets in Mar­seille.

The original name, panisso in Ital­ian, re­ferred to a chick­pea po­lenta: un­like the bat­ter for socca, which is poured di­rectly into a cop­per pan to bake in a wood-fired oven, the panisse mix­ture cooks in a saucepan be­fore being poured into saucers to set.

Be­cause panisses are read­ily avail­able in Nice and Mar­seille, few cooks bother to make them at home these days. Yet the process is sur­pris­ingly easy and re­ward­ing, call­ing for no spe­cial equip­ment and just a few min­utes of whisk­ing as the bub­bling mix­ture thick­ens. The in­gre­di­ents are also easy to find, with gram (chick­pea) flour now being sold in ma­jor su­per­mar­kets as well as In­dian food shops.

Hav­ing made panisses many times, I have dis­cov­ered the im­por­tance of adding olive oil to the water (my first try was a lumpy dis­as­ter with­out it), and to whisk­ing in the sifted chick­pea flour a large ta­ble­spoon­ful at a time. Ide­ally, one per­son adds the flour while the other whisks, but it is per­fectly doable as a solo project. Salt is also a must to bring out the flavour, or you might add chopped black olives, like some pasta shops in Nice.

I pre­fer melt-in-the­mouth panisses to firm ones, so use a lower pro­por­tion of chick­pea flour to water than some recipes I have seen. The frit­ters will take longer to brown and be a lit­tle more del­i­cate to flip as they cook, but for me the re­sult is worth the small ef­fort.

As I don’t have large saucers, I use crème brûlée dishes to ob­tain the tra­di­tional round shape, but you can also pour the mix­ture into an oiled bak­ing tray or loaf pan, which will give you more uni­form chips. Rather than get­ting out my deep fryer, I am happy to shal­low-fry the panisses in equal parts veg­etable oil and olive oil.

For the Niçois, panisses can be any­thing from a snack, per­haps dipped in tomato sauce or a herbed fromage blanc dip, to an ac­com­pa­ni­ment to a stew such as daube, beef sim­mered in red wine with veg­eta­bles. My friend Karine, who was born in Nice, re­mem­bers her grand­mother sprin­kling them with sugar for a dessert – a per­fect ex­am­ple of the lo­cals’ abil­ity to make the most of what they have.

ABOVE: The ma­rina at Nice, cap­i­tal of the Côte d-azur and home to panisses

Food critic and cook­book author Rosa Jack­son lives in Nice, where she runs the cookery school Les Petits Far­cis and writes about food for pub­li­ca­tions world­wide.

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