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Cheese Balls Redux
From Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers: Finger Foods and Small Plates, by Jonathan King and Jim Stott, with Kathy Gunst

Remember those cheese balls your grandmother or great-aunt used to serve at all the family get-togethers? We decided to take a look at this old-fashioned favorite and give cheese balls a new flavor, texture, and appeal.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups (7-1/2 ounces) walnut halves
3/4 cup diced pancetta
6 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola or other creamy blue cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup pitted dates, chopped
Flour for dusting your hands

Instructions:

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F (175C; Gas Mark4).

2. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove and let cool. Finely chop them by hand or in a food processor. The walnuts can be prepared a day ahead of time. Seal in a tightly closed container.

3. In a medium skillet, cook the pancetta over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes, or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Drain on paper towels. The pancetta can be prepared ahead of time.

4. In a medium bowl, use a soft spatula or a kitchen fork to blend the blue cheese and cream cheese. Add the dates and cooled pancetta and stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.

5. Place the chopped toasted walnuts in a bowl.

6. Lightly flour your hands and form 3/4-inch balls with the cheese mixture. Roll each ball lightly in the walnuts, making sure to coat the balls on all sides with the nuts. Place on a serving plate. Alternately, you can assemble the entire cheese mixture into a large, long loaf shape coated with the nuts and serve with crackers. The cheese balls can be made several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: Servew 10 to 15

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