Coccoli or the Florence fried bread balls, are simply fried bread balls, salty, oily and highly enjoyable.
Small in size, these bite size treats are perfect comfort food, which may have had a role in their moniker, coccola, Italian for cuddle or pamper.
You can find them served in paper cones for a to-go snack, and many trattorie in Florence offer these as a perfect bar snack to enjoy with a glass of Chianti or Vermentino, accompanied by stracciatella cheese and prosciutto – preferably on a piazza in Florence, while watching the sun set over the Duomo, or Santa Maria Novella, or Ponte Vecchio.
Makes dough for two 12-inch pizzas
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 package yeast (scant 1 teaspoon)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- Frying oil – vegetable, canola, peanut
- Stracciatella, stracchino or other soft fresh cheese – burrata, fresh mozzarella
- Pecorino cheese
If you haven’t used your yeast in a while, begin by proofing the yeast to make sure it is still active. Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. After a few minutes, bubbles should form. If nothing happens after 10 or 15 minutes, discard and begin again with fresh yeast.
Add the salt and olive oil and mix well. Stir in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. As you incorporate the last 1/2 cup of flour, the dough should become to stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a floured counter and begin to knead. Continue kneading until smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes or so. Try to use as little flour as possible during the kneading process; the less flour you use, the lighter the dough. The dough should be tacky, even sticky. You can do this in a stand mixer if you prefer.
Food processor version:
Place the water, yeast, salt, olive oil and 1/2 cup flour into tne bowl of your food processor. Pulse a couple of times until combined. Add 1 cup of flour, and pulse a few more times – the dough should come together into a ball that does not stick to the sides of the bowl. Add the last 1/4 cup flour if it does not come together, and pulse again a few more times. Once it is in a ball, put the processor on “Start” and allow to run for 2 minutes. Watch as it processes; you may need to add a bit more flour if the ball falls apart into a sticky dough, and some food processors have a tendency to ‘walk’ along the counter top a bit while processing a heavier dough. You don’t want it taking a tumble.
Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces – maybe some for pizza, some for coccoli? Sprinkle flour over the dough, flour your hands and shape each piece into a ball. Place each ball in a medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil and turn the ball to coat it in the oil. Place each in a large plastic bag and put in the refrigerator to rest overnight, or up to 5 days. Note, at this point you can freeze any extra dough just as they are in the plastic bag for up to 3 months.
To fry the Coccoli:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to warm up a bit, maybe an hour or so. Flour your fingers and begin making balls about the size of a walnut. Work with the dough gently so that you don’t knock the air out of it. Fill a heavy, medium-sized saucepan 4 inches deep with frying oil and heat. Test the oil by dropping in a small piece of dough
When the oil is fry-ready, carefully ladle the coccoli balls into the oil. You will need to work in 2 or 3 batches. The coccoli will puff up after a few seconds. Fry for 5 minutes or until they are a light golden brown. Use chopsticks or a spoon to rotate the balls ensuring a nice even color
Scoop out the coccoli with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels. Lightly sprinkle with salt and, while still warm, break them open and fill each with a scoop of stracciatella and a prosciutto crudo.