Panissa is one of those Italian foods that defy a simple definition. In Liguria, it’s a fried version of the chickpea-flour polenta known as farinata. (For the record, Sicilians do similar things with their panelle and Provencal cuisine gets into the action with its socca.)
On restaurant menus in Rome and elsewhere, I’ve also encountered thinner cousins of panissa, with lovely toppings, and it’s a recipe for those chickpea-flour pizzettes that I want to share. I figured out a method for first cooking the batter like thick crepes, topping with mushrooms and ricotta, then crisping in the oven.
These pizzettes are finished with dressed tomatoes and micro greens, for a pretty presentation. You and your chosen other can eat several as a meal, or dole them out, one to an eater, as a snack or appetizer.
Whether you make my unorthodox panissa or traditional panissa, it’s worth any bother because of the uniquely earthy flavor of chickpeas. If you are a gluten avoider, that’s another reason to choose dishes made with this flour.
Here’s where it gets more complicated. In the rice-growing areas of northern Italy, panissa is something else altogether: a rice, beans and sausage dish. I first encountered it in the town of Vercelli, surrounded by golden fields of rice. Half an hour after asking for the cooked-to-order specialty, we dipped into deeply satisfying bowls of rice mingled with plump cranberry beans and sausage, tinted a delicate mauve after simmering in Barbera wine.
This region’s panissa originated as a nourishing one-dish affair eaten by rice-field workers–including the mondine, women brought from all over northern Italian for the tasks of planting and weeding. It hasn’t travelled much beyond this part of Italy, but deserves a larger audience. So, in addition to Chickpea-Flour Pizzettes, I offer a recipe for the other kind of panissa: Rice, Beans and Sausage Risotto.
These pizzettes are a riff on panissa and farinata, the chickpea-flour specialties from Liguria. The batter is first cooked like crepes and then crisped in a hot oven.
- 1 cup chickpea flour
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more for the pan
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper optional
- 1/2 cup chopped shallot
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces shiitake caps or mixed mushrooms cut or torn in small pieces
- 1/4 cup Marsala wine optional
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup good-quality ricotta (such as Calabro)
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Balsamic or quince vinegar
- Microgreens (such as frisee, arugula or watercress sprigs)
Prepare chickpea flour batter: Place 1 cup water in a small bowl. Sift chickpea flour into it and whisk to blend well. Blend in olive oil, salt, thyme and pepper (if using). Let batter stand at room temperature or refrigerate for at least one hour.
Prepare toppings: In a large skillet, sauté shallot with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to turn golden. Add mushrooms, cooking until they soften. Add Marsala if using and cook a few minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine ricotta with Parmigiano Reggiano and a pinch of salt. Cut tomatoes in halves or quarters. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Cook pizzette crusts: Heat a crepe pan or other small heavy skillet (about 6 inches in diameter)* over medium-high heat, and brush with olive oil. Off heat, pour about 1/3 cup of the batter into the pan and swirl to cover the bottom. Cook, nudging edges with your spatula (this helps with the turning), until the top feels firm and perhaps takes on a leathery appearance, about 2 minutes. Carefully turn and cook about 1 minute. Remove to a plate and repeat with remaining batter, brushing pan with olive oil each time. The pizzettes will be a bit thicker than crepes. (At this point, proceed immediately with recipe or refrigerate crusts and toppings for a few hours.)
If you have a pizza stone, place it in upper third of oven and set temperature to 425°F.
Assemble pizzettes: Spread each crust with ricotta mixture. Top with sautéed mushrooms.
Slide pizzettes onto hot pizza stone or a baking sheet. Cook until ricotta turns bubbly, about 10 minutes (or longer, for extra crispness).
Garnish pizzettes with dressed tomatoes and microgreens. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- I like to use a well-seasoned carbon steel crepe pan. A small nonstick pan also works well, although the pizzettes may not brown quite as well.
This hearty dish comes from the northern rice-growing part of Italy. Rice, beans, sausage, red wine and rosemary join forces to create its wonderful flavor. I've specified beans cooked from scratch because the cooking liquid is crucial to the quality of the dish.
- 1 cup dried cranberry (borlotti), kidney or pinto beans
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 1 cup Barbera or other fruity red wine
- 3 to 4 ounces cacciatorini or other cured Italian sausage cut in small pieces
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
Place beans in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water; soak for 6 hours or as directed on the package. Drain and wash well under cold running water. Return beans to saucepan and cover with fresh water to a depth a couple of inches above the beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 hour.*
In a large, broad saucepan or deep skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until lightly browned. Stir in rice and garlic, cooking until fragrant. Add half of wine, simmering until almost evaporated.
Add beans with 3 cups of their cooking liquid. Stir in sausage, rosemary, and remaining half cup of wine. Bring to a boil. Taste broth and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, until rice is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Spoon risotto (AKA panissa) into shallow soup bowls, sprinkling each serving with grated cheese.
*I always cook a full pound of beans, regardless of how much I'm using in the recipe. If you do the same, the quantity of cooked beans you'll need for this dish is 2 cups, plus cooking liquid.