Chef Alex’s Lunchbox: Panelle with Broccoli Rabe Spread and Fresh Mozzarella

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Panelle (panella, if singular) are a specialty street food of Palermo, Italy. They are fried chickpea cakes – soft on the inside and crisp on the outside – often served between two slices of bread as a sandwich. Here, panelle assume the role of the bread itself, with a flavorful broccoli rabe spread and fresh mozzarella in between. This treat can make even the most rushed of desk lunches feel luxurious.

(Yield: 4 servings)

Panelle:

1 cup chickpea flour
2 cups water
½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces fresh mozzarella

Broccoli Spread:

1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated in hot water until soft
1 head of broccoli rabe
2 cloves garlic
Scant ½ teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

To make the panelle:

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium-size pot with ¼ teaspoon salt. Lower the heat to a simmer, add the chickpea flour and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes (as you would polenta).

Pour the chickpea mixture onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and spread evenly to about ¼” thickness. Once the mixture has stopped steaming, refrigerate until it sets up and is firm.

Divide mixture into 8 equal pieces and set aside on a platter. Cover the sheet pan with a fresh sheet of parchment paper, brush each slice with oil, and place back onto the sheet pan.

Bake panelle for until crisp on the outside but still soft on the inside, about 30 minutes. (Panelle are great straight out of the oven, as well as at room temperature.)

To make the broccoli rabe spread:

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil with ¼ teaspoon salt. Add the broccoli and blanch for approximately 2 minutes.

Remove and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain and pat dry.

Place the broccoli, sundried tomatoes, garlic and oil into a food processor, along with the black pepper and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Puree until a pasty consistency is reached.

To Assemble:

Spread a tablespoon of broccoli paste on two slices of panelle and sandwich a slice of mozzarella in between. Slice in half on a diagonal, if desired.

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