15 June 2011

AUNTIE PASTA: Zucchini Flowers

SARONNO, Italy - A good friend of mine is coming for a visit this summer, which makes me very happy. Besides the fact that I enjoy his company, he likes to eat and isn’t afraid to try something new. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to try out some new recipes that I’ve been looking at for a few months now. I’ll also make some old favorites like fried zucchini flowers. 
 Zucchini Flowers on the Vine
The delicate flavor of the zucchini flowers goes well with many foods – or as they say in Italian, si sposa bene with fish, seafood, meat, poultry and rabbit. It also goes well with most vegetables. 

There are two ways of making them: one is to dip the flowers in a light batter and deep fry them in oil, or you can simply dip them first in a beaten egg that has been cut with a little bit of water, and then in flour and fry them. The batter actually works the best as it’s lighter than the egg and flour dip.
 In the Market
Zucchini flowers are great added to a frittata or used as part of a filling for ravioli and cannelloni, or even incorporated into gnocchi. They work well in a quiche, in a casserole, in a cream of zucchini soup and make a plain risotto elegant and delicious. But the best way to eat them is fried. 

It is important that the flowers be fresh, and you can tell if they are by looking at the color. It should be bright and intense, and the petal should be firm and fleshy with no sign of dryness. Be sure to handle them with care so the petals don’t break. 
 Once you try one ....
Cut off the excess stem and remove any thorny bits around the sides. Open the flower gently and remove the stamen, checking to make sure there are no tiny insects inside. Then wipe the petals with a damp cloth or rinse them under slowly running water, rinsing the inside of the flower as well. Refrigerate them.
Make the batter. Truth be known Italian mamas just use plain water and flour, no beer, no fizz, no eggs or anything else. Whisk the flour and water together, it should have the texture of heavy cream, add a little salt and put it in the fridge for an hour. 

Crisp and Delicious

Put about ¾ of an inch of oil in a deep frying pan and turn on the heat. Test the temperature with a drop of batter, which should sizzle and start to brown. You’ll have to turn the heat down at this point to maintain the right temperature.

You can cut the flowers so they lay flat, dip them in the batter and fry them, or you can keep them whole and slide a piece of anchovy in the center. My experience has been that stuffing them with ricotta or mozzarella only makes them mushy, so I don’t do that.
It's a little crowded

It’s best to only fry three or four at a time so you don't lower the temperature of the oil, and only turn them once. When they are golden brown on both sides, lift them out and put them on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with a little salt and eat them right away.

There are many recipes for zucchini flowers on the internet, most more complicated than they need be. Here’s a classic version by Marcella Hazen that was published in the Pittsburgh Gazette, one of my favorite newspapers. Click here to see my travel article on Genova that they published a few years ago. http://www.post-gazette.com/travel/20030810genoa0810p3.asp

Marcella Hazan Zucchini Blossom Fans
12 to 14 zucchini blossoms
1 cup water
2/3 cup flour, about
vegetable oil, enough to come 3/4 inch up the sides of a small skillet

Use the blossoms on the day you buy them. Keep them loosely wrapped in damp paper towels. Wash the blossoms rapidly under cold running water and dry them gently on paper towels. Check for insects and remove the pistil from the center of the flowers before using. If the stems are very long, cut them down to 1 inch in length. Cut the base of the blossom on one side and open the flower flat, without dividing it.

To make the batter, put one cup of water in a soup plate and gradually add the flour, sifting it through a sieve and constantly beating the mixture with a fork until all the flour has been added. The batter should have the consistency of heavy cream.

Heat the oil over high heat. When it is very hot, dip the blossoms quickly in and out of the batter and slip them into the skillet. When they are golden brown on one side, turn them and cook them to golden brown on the other side. Transfer to paper towels to drain, sprinkle with salt and serve promptly while still hot. Serves 4.

Do you have any secret cooking tips you'd like to share? Send them in. Your comments are always welcomed.  Buon Appetito

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