Oh irony: summer meaning August, fog, cold wind has arrived weeks ahead of schedule, and the bluster has slammed shut the grilling window. We huddle around the stove instead, warming our hands over bubbling soups and stews. Additional irony: tomatoes are starting to turn up at the farmers market. Luckily, the Provençal seafood-stew recipe I’ve been using for years calls for tomatoes. Irony overload averted.
What to serve the stew with or over has long been an issue. Rice is an obvious choice, while mashed potatoes are nice and wintry. White beans and polenta have seen service. Toasted bread would work. But … how about panisses? These are the french frylike chickpea sticks of Provence that for some reason have never found much of an audience here despite their many attractions.
Panisses are quite easy to produce. They are, essentially, chilled polenta cut into thin bars that are then fried up until golden crispy. The twists are that you use chickpea flour instead of cornmeal, you must allow an hour or two for the batter to chill and stiffen in the refrigerator, and you need some parchment paper and, ideally, a large nonstick skillet.
Make the faux polenta by putting one cup of chickpea flour in a heavy saucepan with a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil. Slowly whisk in one cup of water until you have a smooth batter. Add two more cups of water, turn on the heat to high, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, stirring, until the mixture is quite thickened. Pour it into a rectangular pan lined with parchment paper (I use a meat loaf pan), let it cool, then chill in the refrigerator. When you are ready to make the panisses, remove the slab from the pan and slice into narrow bars. Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in your skillet and put in the panisses. (They will be geutf8ous but should hold together if handled gently.) Turn after five minutes or so to crisp them all over. Remove from the skillet and drain briefly on paper towels.
As for the stew: you’re on your own, but if you can’t be bothered, the panisses are magnificent on their own.