This is Sabia Tortella's recipe from Abruzzo. These delicious fried cheese balls are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. They are great served with a fresh tomato or pepper sauce — either as a vegetarian main course or on the side for dipping as antipasto. Try to find a coarse country loaf that has gone a little stale — the bread should bounce back to life after being soaked and squeezed.
Put the tomatoes, 2 sprigs of the basil, and the onion in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan with a lid and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the tomatoes have released their juices and softened, for about 45 minutes. Remove the basil sprigs.
Remove the pan from the heat and pass the sauce through a food mill or sieve to remove the tomato skins and most of the seeds. Alternatively, use a hand blender and purée the tomatoes, skins and all.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic. After 2 minutes. add the tomatoes and the remaining basil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and if necessary, the sugar (if the tomatoes are very sweet, you might not need this). Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the mixture has reduced and the flavor has become more concentrated, for 30-45 minutes.
Soak the bread in water for a few minutes until soft. Squeeze out and crumble. If necessary, put in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds to break up larger lumps of bread. Finely chop the parsley and garlic together then mix with the eggs, Parmesan, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a large bowl, adding about three-fourths of the bread first, more if needed.
Fill a large pot 1/3 full with oil and heat until hot.
Test 1 ball first. Roll one 1 ½-inch ball from the mixture and fry in the hot oil. If the mixture seems wet, add more breadcrumbs, as necessary. If too dry, add more egg.
Roll out the rest of the mixture and fry the balls in hot oil until golden brown all round. Drain on paper towels and serve with tomato sauce.