Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Round food is good food

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon, and I was camped out on the floor in a pile of cookbooks and recipe-filled binders. Guests were coming that night, and while there's nothing wrong with the usual cheese-and-crackers routine, I was yearning for something a little different.

A hastily-copied recipe with a very fun name caught my eye-- bollitas!

Better known as cheese-wrapped olive balls, these classic appetizers were just what I needed.

Pimento-stuffed olives are patted dry, then encased in a crumbly cheese 'dough', before being baked in a hot oven.

The first few attempts at wrapping were laughable at best, but I quickly got the hang of it. Placing a blob of dough in the palm of my hand, I squished in an olive, then cupped my hands around it. Bit by bit, the crumbly dough began to come together, encasing the naked olive in a cozy cheesy coating.

Now, repeat 23 more times, and you'll see why I only make these a couple of times a year.

The basic recipe calls for cheddar and pimento-stuffed green olives, but there's no need to linger there. Substitute large garlic-stuffed olives, and surround them with blue cheese. Kalamata olives call for a Mediterranean spin, so a little feta flecked with thyme and oregano are the perfect fit. You like the spice? You'll love it even more with jalapeno-stuffed olives and a fiery habanero cheese.

These not only freeze well, but actually bake up better after having been frozen. The cook time is under 20 minutes, making the perfect go-to for unexpected guests. Once golden and cooling, the only question is... what to serve them with?

My predilection is for mango salsa, but you could go any number of ways. Roasted red pepper dip, hummus and baba ganoush would be just as nice as a sour cream-chipotle dip, lemony chimichurri, or even a mixed-vegetable tapenade.
It's always fun to play with food.

Cheese-Wrapped Olive Balls (Bollitas)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon paprika or cayenne pepper
1/2 cup flour
24 pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In bowl of food processor, combine cheese, butter, paprika/cayenne, and flour. Process until smooth.

Take about 1 tablespoon of crumbly dough and place in the palm of your hand. Place one of the olives in middle of dough. Cup your hand to begin fixing dough around olive.
Roll between palms of hands until dough is smoothly wrapped around olive.

Repeat until all olives have been wrapped.
Place onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.
You many need to blot these a bit with a paper towel!

Note: If baking same day, place formed balls into freezer for about 15 minutes prior to baking. If baking from frozen, let sit out for about 15 minutes (while oven is heating): bake time may be extended by a few minutes.


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