Winter Warm up: Chicken Cacciatore with Parmesan Cheeseballs

by Jennifer Ruple

When hearing the word cheeseball, we tend to think of something one would spread on a cracker. This recipe is not that. Rather it’s a recipe for Parmesan Cheeseballs, which is similar to how my Italian grandmother would make them. Basically she would roll Parmesan cheese, eggs, bread and spices into balls; brown them in olive oil; and simmer them in a red sauce.
My grandmother would sometimes make cheeseballs to accompany dishes like chicken cacciatore or veal stew – no pasta required. Other times they were simply added to the giant sauce pot, along with meatballs and Italian sausage, she would make on weekends and holidays.
When my grandmother was growing up, her mother would make cheeseballs in place of meatballs on Fridays when the family did not eat meat. “You either loved them or you didn’t,” she reminisced.
While this dish was derived out of necessity, it was very creative in that it took simple pantry ingredients and turned them into a hearty and satisfying meal. That concept is what makes Italian food so desirable. 
My grandmother isn’t cooking much these days, but I am so grateful to have her direction so I can carry on one of our family’s culinary traditions. Here I present Parmesan Cheeseballs over a bed of Chicken Cacciatore. Again, no pasta required.

Chicken Cacciatore with Parmesan Cheeseballs
4-5 servings

Sauce and Chicken
24 ounce jar Rao’s Tomato and Basil sauce
8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced
½ cup dry red wine
1 quart white mushrooms, sliced
2.25 ounce can sliced black olives
1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
Olive oil for browning
Fresh Italian parsley for garnish
Parmesan Cheeseballs
8 slices day-old Italian bread, crusts
removed and torn into small pieces
3 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
2 eggs
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Olive oil for browning
In a large sauce pot, combine tomato sauces, pepper slices and wine. Bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer.
Cut each chicken breast into 3 large pieces. Dredge in flour.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add chicken pieces and brown on each side. Add to sauce.
While sauce and chicken simmer (about 30 minutes), make cheeseballs.
For the cheeseballs, combine bread, cheese, eggs and spices in a large bowl. Roll mixture into 12 balls.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add cheeseballs, turning often to allow even browning.
Add cheeseballs, mushrooms and black olives to sauce and allow to simmer at least 1 hour. The cheeseballs will absorb the flavors from the ingredients in the sauce.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped Italian parsley and grated Parmesan cheese.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple and Ann McGrath)

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