July 17, 2018

I’ve been keeping this secret for years…

Customer picture from CloverHUB

Panelle in Sicily is terrible. There, I said it.

The Panelle is one of our most successful sandwiches of all time. It’s like nothing you’ve had. Custardy, almost egg-like though it’s vegan. The fennel is amazing. It’s satisfying, yet summery and fresh and delicious. It’s incredible and I wish I could make it at home (even though I’m eating it daily at Clover). When we asked Josh Lewin, award winning chef at Juliet what he loves most on our menu he said: “PANELLE!!!” At that point we hadn’t even had it on menu for 2 years. But now it’s back and Josh and others can rejoice.

But our Panelle is inspired by something terrible. The Panelle in Palermo, where it originates, is just awful. There is not other honest way to describe it. I’ve been torn about whether to admit this. It’s been a little secret we’ve been keeping to ourselves. But it’s the truth. The Sicilian Panelle wasn’t just disappointing, or “not for me.” It was “how am I going to spit this out discreetly without drawing attention” bad.

We originally learned about this sandwich from a customer who told us about his childhood favorite, he described it as a Sicilian equivalent of grilled cheese. Comforting and something your mother might make for you after school. And don’t get me wrong. I believe that there might be amazing panelle served by mothers to their kids. But this isn’t the Panelle we had in Palermo.

In Palermo, the capital of Sicily, there are 2 street food favorites: spleen sandwiches and panelle sandwiches. (If you want to include dessert there is a 3rd, a delicious and odd ice cream sandwich served on a sort of brioche roll.) We found a couple listings of “best panelle in Palermo,” and made our list. The first stop wasn’t on the itinerary. As we entered the city we saw a shop and pulled over excited for our first experience. We’d been in Calabria for a week and were told Panelle was only to be found in Sicily. We took the ferry over hoping to get Panelle at the closest port City (Messina area) and we were told we had to go to Palermo. I found a cheap hotel and booked it and off we drove through 3 hours of amazing tunnels across Sicily.

The first panelle, it looked interesting, but none of us wanted a second bite. At this point we were all looking uncomfortable, but nobody wanted to share their thoughts.

We found the shops on my list. We had a few from street vendors. Tried one at a sit down restaurant. A couple of new places. Some old places. I was traveling with Chris, Vincenzo, Lucia, and Ethan. Everybody wanted to stop the Panelle search after a couple. But we soldiered on. I kept us tasting until late at night when everything was shut down.

But all we found was just really awful Panelle.

  1. The oil it’s fried in was always nasty. Old, oxidized, really not tasty
  2. The texture was terrible. Do you know how a perfect egg is tender, exciting in your mouth, satisfying? And an overcooked egg is rubbery and sort of hard to eat? The Palermo Panelle is the overcooked egg.
  3. The taste wasn’t yummy. When we made the Panelle (which are made like polenta but with chickpea flour) we thought it could use something. So we season it and add a bit of rosemary. It’s delicious. The Panelle in Palermo just didn’t have much taste. Really you could only taste the off flavors of the rancid oil from the fryer.

Or as Lucia said the other day: “I’ll never want to eat gross old oil on nasty ass stale bread… It was unlike anything I’ve had in how bad it was.” (btw, Lucia speaks fluent Italian, so if you take offense you don’t have to yell at her in English ; )

On another note Vincenzo loved the spleen sandwiches.

(Picture below of the fun ice cream sandwich from Palermo. Reminds me of the ice cream on hot dog roll that is popular in Bangkok.)

Addendum – a couple of people took from this story that I didn’t like eating in Southern Italy. Sorry if I gave that impression. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!!! I LOVED the trip there. I love traveling. You are forced to reassess so many assumptions. And who wouldn’t enjoy an eating trip in Italy. It was incredible and the trip impacted me in wonderful lasting ways. Even the Panelle. We came back knowing first hand what we were working with.

Recent Posts

February 15, 2024
We have a new sandwich out everywhere today. It’s a take on a Buffalo Chicken sandwich. We use celery root, aka celeriac, this nobbly, gnarled joy of a winter vegetable. We cut it into planks, batter it with panko, and fry it. We’re getting ours from Norwich Meadows Farm, a farm in NY state that’s known for creating really flavorful organic veggies using a cool irrigation system. 
February 7, 2024
For the week of Valentine’s Day, we’ll be delivering these Making Whoopie (Pie) Kits 😉. They have everything you need to make whoopie pies — more specifically, Chris’ favorite oatmeal cakes with beet buttercream frosting. You’ll also get a scoop for making the perfect size pie, and a roll of sugar cookie dough for more sweet fun.
January 18, 2024
Pull out your plaid and cue up the bagpipes because it’s Clover’s third-ever celebration of Burns Night, an introduction to Scottish food/drink/music/poetry and a reason to raise a glass during this dark and cold month! You may be asking yourself, what is Burns Night?
January 17, 2024
Chances are you’ve tried the new Clover Bowls. We’ve been running them since the Spring. After a few tweaks, we landed on a roster we love: the Mediterranean Bowl, the Verde Rice and Bean Bowl, and a Rotating Seasonal Bowl. The bowls have transformed our menu – Josh, a Kendall customer, recently wrote to us, “The beet poke bowl is the best new item I’ve tried at Clover in years. I love the freshness and bite of the mix of flavors.” We’ve also heard some very good suggestions about how to make them even better…
January 3, 2024
Meet the Veggie Monster Meal Box! Some of you are subscribers to our Friday newsletter about plant-based cooking. Now… that newsletter has spawned a meal box! Pack your fridge with everything you need to make an entire week of vegetable-based meals. Think hearty pot pies; sweet and spicy maple-roasted squash tacos; bowls packed with…
December 20, 2023
New Year’s Eve is no time to be buried in the kitchen, so we pack our NYE Box with Clover fan favorites that come together fast and encourage a night of Finger-Food Feasting. Can you think of anything better than digging into bubbling hot Brussels Sprout Cheese dip on a freezing cold Boston night? Or scooping up our bright nutty Romesco sauce as the clock ticks to midnight?  And our breakthrough Carrot Lox (probably the best thing to come out of our food dev in 2023) will have you resolving to spare more salmon in the year ahead.
December 19, 2023
Stop by Clover today (Tuesday 12/19) and when you order a Brussels Sandwich on the app, we’ll give you $1 off our new chocolate chip cookie! It’s a gift from King Brussels, on his final day in the Clover Kingdom. Use this link to get yours!
December 16, 2023
Are you looking for the perfect gift for a friend who loves Clover? We have online gift cards! You can specify a time that you’d like the card to hit their inbox – and there’s a new feature that lets multiple people pool money to send a card to one person. Pretty cool!  
December 10, 2023
What would we serve if we had all of you over for Christmas dinner? This (epic) box, available only for Christmas, is an homage to the holiday traditions of our Clover staff. And like all Clover boxes, it supports our hardworking Massachusetts farmers, millers, bakers, and cheesemakers. This box is designed to feed you and keep you properly festive throughout a week with different meals/snacks, and can also be laid out all together on a holiday table as one big feast.
December 4, 2023
These sweet potato latkes date back to early days on the Clover food truck. They’re so yummy and the sweet potatoes lend them such a fun golden color. They’re probably the most popular item in our Hanukkah Meal Box, which you can get delivered on December 7th. Inside the box you’ll find: 
November 29, 2023
I’m writing to share some news: we’ve decided to permanently close CloverROW, our outpost in the Assembly Row neighborhood of Somerville. The closure of this restaurant is part of the whole company’s focus on reaching financial sustainability and positioning us for future growth. These decisions are really hard, but they’re necessary steps for us to simplify Clover. And, happily, all the amazing staff at CloverROW, including the manager Joe, will be able to move into other Clover restaurants. The math is straightforward…
November 21, 2023
Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. We will be closed Thursday 11/23 at all locations. For our kitchen team, it will be a good chance to rest after prepping a ton of Brussels casseroles for our Thanksgiving Box : ) As for the days surrounding Thanksgiving, we’ll be open normal hours, except for CloverFIN (Financial District) and CloverHSC (Harvard Science Center) which will be closed tomorrow and Friday. CloverHSQ (Harvard Square) will be closing early (at 8pm) tomorrow.