- The Dish: Tuscan-style chickpea fries with parmesan, truffle, dried porcini and black olive
- The Place: Vinegar Yard, Bermondsey, London, SE1 3QU
- The Chef: Matteo Grasso
Chickpeas have been on our radar for some time in terms of innovation, with the versatile legume going beyond the classic hummus and into the realms of meat alternatives, dairy alternatives and bagged snacking.
Way back in 2018, we highlighted a San Francisco restaurant who were serving up chickpea fries with chillies, anise, ginger and curry aioli. It seemed like quite a mad idea at the time, but chickpea fritters have long been a thing in Italy, specifically Palermo.
This month, Italian street food truck, Sugo, made the news with their planned bricks-and-mortar debut in London’s Elephant and Castle, with the brand focused on introducing the British public to the delights of regional Italian favourites beyond pizza and pasta.
And, after launching in 2017 with a trio of sandwiches, Sugo – which is an Italian term for the sauce at the bottom of a bowl ragu or pasta – has expanded its menu to include chickpea fries.
These come in two flavours - Sicilian (lemon and pepper with Sicilian seasoning) and Tuscan (Parmesan, truffle, dried porcini and black olive).
The fries themselves are made by first grinding chickpeas into gram flour before slow cooking them in water so they become a paste, which is then cut into shapes and deep fried.
With fixed food truck sites in London Bridge and Shepherd’s Bush, Sugo has slowly been making a name for itself, with the founder Matteo Grasso telling Food Spark they have bold plans to establish themselves as a chain restaurant in the future.
“Our ethos is to change the current London stereotypes with Italian food,” says Grasso.
“The big chain version of Italian cuisine, which is basically sit-down pasta and pizza, is not representative of the amazingly innovative and expressive food scene actually going on regionally in Italy.
“Our signature dish, the Sugo Panino, is based on the street food sandwich from Rome and was our first food offering. We have expanded that to include arancini from the east side of Sicily and also the panelle, which hails from the west side of Sicily, which also known as chickpea fries.
“Soon, we’re bringing in riso venere (black rice from the Po Valley), zeppole (deep fried pizza dough balls from Napoli), a few more veggie dishes and a lamb ragu.”
Considering the recent success of pasta in the UK, especially in London, the opportunity to explore a greater variety of Italian street staples should be pretty appealing. And the chickpea fry, considering the recognisable format and low cost involved, could be a good start.
“It’s all about the temperature of the water when you cook the chickpeas,” continues Grasso.
“It’s important when to get the right consistency of paste. Our two versions are extremely popular in both sites – they’re an easy alternative to the classic chip. It’s odd that I can’t find them anywhere else in London.”
Discovery is at the centre of Sugo’s ethos, with Grasso and his team constantly searching for new street food dishes from Italy to showcase.
“My first sandwich recipes came from my nonna in Italy,” he says.
“Now we have a bigger team and we’re developing new recipes from different regions. Most Italian cities have their own thing or at least their own version.
“We’re trying to show the public that the Italian food scene is young, modern and exciting. There’s more to it than just pasta and pizza.”