I think I may have given one of my neighbours and the driver of our rubbish collection service a chuckle today. Both happened to come along the back service lane just as I popped outside to the kitchen garden to pluck some fresh zucchini flowers in the cool light of the early morning. If the sight of a half-asleep woman, scissors in hand and wearing a slinky Peter Alexander robe, didn't make them smile, the happy dance I did when I found several fiori di zucca ready to pick certainly must have.
The doyenne of Italian cookery, Lorenza de'Medici, reminds us that the large edible flowers are 'a zucchini culinary plus'. In her book, A Passion for Vegetables, she writes that she fries them in a light batter, or stuffs them with a little ricotta or mozzarella and chopped herbs, before gently frying them in olive oil. Fiori di Zucchini fritti or fried zucchini flowers seems to be one of the most popular ways of preparing the little gems. Commendatore Antonio Carluccio, says the fritters can be served as a starter or with aperitifs and are ideal for those summer days when you don't want to cook a huge meal.
Interestingly, Signora de'Medici is adamant that zucchini 'should be called zucchini, not courgettes, as some French chef in London must have done decades ago.' To add weight to that statement, she refers to the learned opinion of food historian, Alan Davidson, who says in The Oxford Companion to Food that it was the Italians who first marketed 'zucchini' under that name.
Zucchini flowers have a delicate texture and subtle flavour. Those pictured in my photograph above are the male flowers, indicated by the delicate stem, whereas the female flowers have a tiny baby zucchini attached. Renowned chef and restaurateur, Stefano Manfredi, says he prefers the female as ' that little zucchini provides a functional and edible handle'. Chef Manfredi makes a tempura batter and carefully opens the ends of the flowers, then stuffs them with a combination of grated parmesan, gruyere, breadcrumbs and herbs, dips them in batter and finally fries them in hot oil until they are golden. Delizioso!
'When this is good it's very, very good, and when it's limp it's a disaster,' says Frances Mayes in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. To avoid failure, the oil must maintain a steady temperature and the flowers must be absolutely fresh, she adds. Sage advice to be followed, methinks.
Deep fried zucchini blossoms look stunning arranged atop risotto made with young zucchini, a la the Valentina Harris mode of cooking. For this, you'll need to prepare a risotto flavoured with half a dozen thinly sliced baby zucchini. The mozzarella-stuffed, battered and fried flowers are used to decorate the finished dish.
Another lovely way of using the flowers is to make a frittata ai fiori di zucca. Chef Dominique Rizzo delves into her Sicilian origins to present this recipe in her book, My Taste of Sicily. To make this frittata, you'll need 15 flowers to six eggs, 60ml of olive oil, 20g grated parmesan, fresh baby herbs and some sliced spring onions. Combine the ingredients in a bowl, then pour them into a heated cast iron pan, then cook for about three minutes. What could be simpler, or more exquisite?!
With several zucchini plants in the garden, I'm looking forward to trying each of these methods over the summer, as well as experimenting with some of my own ideas. For now, I see a small frittata on the menu for our lunch. Buon appetito!
Tell me dear readers, do you grow zucchini? Have you tried cooking with zucchini blossoms? What is your favourite way of preparing them? Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment, or send an email. I really appreciate hearing from you! ت
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.