Friday, September 18, 2009

Zucchini Balls with Melted Cheese Centers

Zucchini Balls

Let's be real.. this is a labor intensive recipe by my estimation.  It's a good way to use up a lot of zucchini at once, and the zucchini balls can be fried, and then cooled and frozen, and reheated for later.  It's not low fat (but I do have an idea for a variation). But they taste delicious, and are high in fiber. I'm done justifying the fried zucchini balls.  Try them once.  Delish.

Start with 2 pounds of zucchini - which is 2-3 medium sized, or one really big one.  I cut the seeds out of the really big one after salting it and letting it sit, and aimed for 2 lbs on my kitchen scale.

Line a large colander with as many zucchini slices as possible and sprinkle the slices generously with salt. Lay another layer of slices on top of the first layer and sprinkle with salt. Continue until all of the zucchini slices are in the colander. Set the colander in a sink or over a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. The zucchini will release some liquid while resting. We're just removing some of the liquid, firming up the zucchini, and removing any bitterness there might be.  You can also substitute eggplant, but let sit for an additional 15 minutes to get the bitterness out on those purple guys.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.Pat the zucchini slices dry with a paper towel. At this point I cut out the big seed core of the larger zucchini.  Place the slices on a baking so that they lay in a single layer.

Set the baking sheet in the upper portion of the oven and bake until the zucchini slices are tender and dry, about 30 minutes.

Place the zucchini slices in a food processor and pulse a few time to chop. Be careful not to chop it too fine. This took 3-4 pulses in my processor. Of course, you can always chop the zucchini by hand.
Scrape the zucchini into a bowl and add 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1 egg, a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, and 1/4 cup bread crumbs.

Whisk a second egg in a medium bowl. Gradually beat in 1 1/2 tablespoons flour to form a smooth batter.

Pour 1 cup of dry bread crumbs onto a plate or shallow dish and season with salt and pepper.  It's unnecessary to add the salt and pepper if you use Italian seasoned bread crumbs.  Form the zucchini mixture into balls slightly smaller than ping pong balls. Insert a bocconcini (mini mozzarella ball) or 1-inch cube of fresh mozzarella into each eggplant ball. Roll again in your hands so that the mozzarella is no longer visible.  By the way, you can cut a cheese stick into small segments if you'd prefer. The cheese is firmer, but the cost is lower this way. Just shorter than 1 inch is preferred. You could use a small piece of homemade paneer or pressed ricotta here too.

Roll each cheese stuffed zucchini ball into the egg/flour batter and then roll in the breadcrumbs. You can prepare all of the balls up to 2 or 3 hours in advance of frying them.  I popped mine onto a cookie sheet and kept them cold in the refrigerator until I had time to fry them later.  Another time I plan to spray a batch of these yummy little nuggets with an olive oil spray, then bake them at 425* until crunchy.  I haven't had time to do that yet. But back to frying them.

In a large skillet, heat 1/2-inch vegetable or canola oil over medium-high heat to about 375 degrees F. When you drop some of the egg batter in the oil, the batter should sizzle and immediately float to the top.With a slotted spoon, lower the zucchini balls into the oil. You'll have to do this in several batches. Once the balls are golden brown all over, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towel.  Keep an eye on your oil thermometer because if the temp is too high, the outside will get too dark before the cheese melts.

Repeat with remaining batches.These can be served hot or room temperature. I love flexible food! Top each ball with a small dollop of plain Greek yogurt and sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.  Or let's just say my children prefer them with a side of ranch dressing and lots of napkins.  We skip the parsley.

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