When the teenage son of Sicilian friends came to stay, he walked into the living-room and visibly paled. “Where is papa?” he asked. Papa? Well, there’s a photo of my father on the shelf. Would that do? “No, no. Papa! Il Papa!” Uh-oh. No picture of Pope here. Boy, had he come to the wrong house. Jews had not figured large in his Catholic upbringing. I don’t think it had quite registered he was coming to stay in a Jewish household amidst the exciting prospect of seeing Manchester United play at home.
While researching my book on Sicilian food, I had made close friends with his parents. Soon after I met them, they had a furious row about street directions. Michele stopped the car and shouted foul Sicilian curses. Rosie screamed he was as obstinate as a drunken mule. A minute later all was calm again. They apologised, but I said it made me feel right at home. We had a lot in common, I said, when it came to food, family, jokes and high emotion. The difference between the Jewish and the Sicilian mother was that the former would tell her son to eat up or she would kill herself, and the latter would tell him to eat up or she would kill him.
I was reminded of this by the publication of How The British Fell in Love With Food: 25 years of food writing and recipes from the Guild of Food Writers (Simon & Schuster, £20). I have the joint honour of being macher-in-chief (ie the chair) of the Guild and having a contribution in the book about Sicilian markets. These Palermo street snacks of Arabic origin are surprisingly easy to make and go well with horses’ heads, I mean hors d’oeuvres.
Makes about 20. Chickpea flour is available at specialist delis and Asian stores.
● 250g chickpea flour
● 600ml water
● A handful of finely chopped parsley
● Oil for deep-frying
● Lemon juice
● Pour the water into a heavy pan, then steadily whisk in a stream of chickpea flour. Lumps are undesirable.
● Add salt and parsley and cook over a medium to low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and pulls away from the side of the pan.
● Pour the mixture onto a cold surface, ideally a marble slab, and use a wooden spatula to spread it wafer-thin.
● Leave to cool, then cut the paste into small triangles and deep-fry until they are golden brown.
● Sprinkle with lemon juice, and eat at once.