BY MARIE LODI
Photo courtesy of Joe Sasto
A good Super Bowl party needs to have a proper snack spread. You need the classic umami-packed crowd-pleasers like pizza, wings and seven-layer dip plus crunchy bites like chips, popcorn, and crudites (it can’t all be indulgent food!). Looking to take it to the next level? A plate of deep fried cheese balls with cannabis-infused marinara is guaranteed to impress. We asked chef Joe Sasto to tell us how to make it.
Sasto, who specializes in Italian cuisine with a focus on California produce, honed his expertise at Bay Area restaurants like Quince and Lazy Bear before showing off his skills on shows like Chopped and Top Chef. Currently, Sasto hosts pop-up events, like his upcoming dinner series, Tanto Si Tempo, taking place February 5 and 6 at Playground 2.0 in Santa Ana.
For this recipe, Sasto substitutes your typical red marinara sauce with a cannabis-friendly green version, courtesy of an infused oil. It has the consistency of a pesto, with a THC kick. If you’re making your own infusion, he recommends strains like Forbidden Lemon Glue with its garlicky, Italian flavors. And before you panic about the three-step breading station: don’t worry! It’s easier than it sounds and you’ll wind up with fancy mozzarella sticks that everyone will love.
Ingredients for Green Marinara
2 tbsp non-infused olive oil
2 tbsp infused olive oil
1 tomatillo, peeled and quartered
1 sweet yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin
½ lbs basil (picked from stem)
½ lbs parsley (picked)
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
½ tsp chili flakes
1 tsp oregano, dried
1 tsp thyme, dried
1 ½ tbsp salt
Heat non-infused olive oil in a pan and sweat (sauté) onions over medium heat until just starting to soften and turn brown around the edges.
Add garlic, dried oregano, thyme, chili flake, and salt. Stir to mix.
Add tomatillo and salt. Give it a quick stir and let it sit on the heat for 5 minutes until softened.
Add a quarter cup of water and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat. If it looks too dry, add a few spoonfuls more as needed.
Prepare an ice bath with a large mixing bowl full of water and ice cubes.
Turn heat to high and add parsley and basil. Stir.
Remove from heat and immediately blend in a blender set on high to keep the bright green color. Stream in 2 tbsp of infused olive oil.
Immediately cool in a bowl over an ice bath to preserve the green color.
Ingredients for Fried Cheese Balls
2 lbs Bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls), drained
2 cups panko
1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt / pepper to taste
Oil, for frying
1. In a food processor or blender, process half of the panko until it looks like a fine crumble. Combine with the remaining coarse panko.
2. Setup a three-pan breading station while the oil is heating. Flour, eggs (beaten with a splash of water), and panko mix.
3. Season all three pans with salt and pepper.
4. Dredge the bocconcini first in the flour, followed by the egg, and then the panko. Make sure to knock off or drain as much of the previous pan before moving to the next. Repeat the egg and panko steps a second time so that your cheese is properly coated.
5. Place in refrigerator to set for at least an hour. This can be done the day before. You can also make it a week in advance and keep it in the freezer.
6. Gently warm the green marinara – but don’t let it simmer otherwise the color will fade and turn brown.
7. In small batches, fry the balls in 350F oil until golden brown and the cheese just starts to ooze. Transfer to a paper towel and sprinkle with salt to season.
8. Serve warm and enjoy!
Chef’s tip #1: Invest in a thermometer for your pot. It’ll help you better control the temperature of your oil and ensure you get the perfect fried ball.
Chef’s tip #2: Reuse your oil. After it cools, strain the oil, store it in a container, and label it “fry oil.” That way, you can use it again the next time you fry.