When in Abruzzo...mangia Concetta’s Pallotte Cace e Ove (Fried Cheese Balls)
Updated: Feb 5
Vincenzo and I are in Italy to visit family and friends. Our first few weeks in Abruzzo are always filled with days planned around our favorite foods. One of them is this special traditional dish made by Concetta.
The history of pallotte cace e ove is steeped in the farming culture that is so strong in this area of Abruzzo - Roccascalenga. Most families have their own animals, including chickens, cows, goats, etc. At one time, everyone had access to fresh cheese made locally, sometimes made right on the farm. If a family did not have meat to eat with sauce, cheese balls were made. It's a poor man's dish, but one that is absolutely delicious.
This recipe is one of the dishes that I remember eating on my very first visit to meet Vincenzo's family many years ago. It's still one of my absolute favorites. Eating them always brings me back to those first few days meeting everyone here in Abruzzo.
In Minnesota, we make the cheese balls with cheese curds from Wisconsin. You want to use a cheese that is not too aged, and one that melts well. Give the recipe a try, you won't regret it. Buon Appetito!
Concetta’s Pallotte Cace e Ove (Fried Cheese Balls)
2.5 pounds white cheddar cheese curds (Cheese curds are the closest type of cow’s milk cheese I can find in the States to make this recipe taste like it did in Italy.)
4 large eggs
1 clove garlic (minced)
1/8 cup parsley (chopped)
¼ cup bread crumbs (use stale bread or Panko)
Olive oil for frying (you will need about 35 ounces or 1 liter). Use light olive oil for this.
Place the cheese curds into a food processor and chop until the cheese is broken down into very small pieces. Place in a medium mixing bowl. Next add the eggs, minced garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs and mix well.
Using your hands, form the cheese mixture into 1-inch round balls, pack them as tight as possible. Place them on a sheet pan until you have used all of the cheese mixture.
Next, place a very heavy frying pan with deep sides (cast iron is perfect, but others will work as well) on the stove. Add the olive oil and start to heat over medium-high heat.
You will need a large platter or baking sheet covered with paper towels and a slotted spoon or small wire spider to retrieve the balls when they are done frying as well.
After 2 minutes, test the oil by placing one of the smaller cheese balls in to see if the oil is ready for frying. It should immediately start to bubble and fry. If it doesn’t, wait another minute and try again.
Place 6-8 of the cheese balls in the oil at a time and fry until a deep, golden brown. Turn the cheese balls every few seconds to make sure all sides are fried well. This may take 2-3 minutes.
Once the cheese balls are golden brown in color, remove from oil and place on paper towels to cool.
Serve the cheese balls alongside a tomato sauce for dipping, or eat the traditional way, by placing the cheese balls into Concetta’s tomato sauce and let them bubble around in the sauce for 5-6 minutes. The sauce and cheese balls can be served with or without pasta as well.
I always enjoy eating these just as I did the first time I had them. Like a little cheese donut when they are fresh from the fryer, and in Concetta’s tomato sauce, with no pasta added—just the cheese balls and the sauce.
Serves 4-6 people.
Recipe note: This recipe can be doubled. That is how Concetta makes it. The cheese balls store well in the freezer as well. Cool them well after frying and place 8-10 in a freezer bag. Thaw well prior to using and place into tomato sauce for 8-10 minutes to warm prior to serving.