August celebrates the apex of summer and its abundance of fruits and vegetables. Corn, tomatoes, sweet peaches and plums, they’re all in season right now. And zucchini. How can we forget about the zucchini?
It’s everywhere these days. For the past few weeks I’ve been sautéing it and tossing it with pasta, grilling long, thin strips of it in my stovetop grill pan, and baking it into bread. I didn’t think there was anything left for me to do with it, but then I came across a box of zucchini flowers at my local farmers’ market.
These delicate, yellow-orange blossoms were too tempting to leave behind. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, but I was most familiar with two Italian preparations for fiori di zucca: They can be fried, which is how my mother makes them, or they can be stuffed with a cheese filling and fried, as Jim and I recently saw on Jamie Oliver’s wonderful cooking show, Jamie at Home.
(If you can’t already tell, there’s no escaping the frying involved with this project. Just go with it.)
Zucchini blossoms are not hard to work with, but they should be cooked right away and they need to be handled gently. Interestingly, they come in female and male versions, with the females attached directly to the zucchini and the males growing on a separate stem.
After watching Oliver’s program for guidance, we stuffed the blossoms with a filling of fresh ricotta, basil, and lemon zest. Similar to the versatile stuffed chard leaves I made a few weeks ago, a variety of cheese-based fillings could work in this recipe. Next we dipped the flowers and zucchini into our Oliver-inspired batter, threw them into a batch of hot olive oil, and fried away.
Jim and I wound up with too many fried zucchini flowers for just the two of us, but no matter. We did our best, crunching our way through the hot, browned batter to the creamy, lemony ricotta filling hiding within. The flower petals added a fresh sweetness in the midst of the crisp coating and lush cheese center. I wonder what August will bring us next. And more importantly, can it be fried?
Recipe for Fried Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Lemon Basil Ricotta (adapted from the television program Jamie at Home)
- 8 zucchini flowers and any attached zucchini
- 1/2 lb of fresh ricotta (do not use packaged supermarket ricotta)
- 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped basil
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 bottle white wine
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Prepare the flowers: Gently rinse the zucchini flowers. Spread the petals open to reveal the bulbous pistil or stamen inside, at the base of each blossom. Remove it from each flower with a paring knife.
Prepare the filling: Combine the ricotta, basil, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fill the flowers: Take a plastic freezer bag and scoop the filling into it. Cut off one of the bottom corners of the bag to create a type of pastry bag. Open each blossom, spread the petals back gently, and squeeze a small amount of the ricotta filling inside—you should be able to fit a couple of tablespoons of filling inside each flower. Fold the petals over each other to seal the filling in the flowers. Don’t worry if they look messy or don’t seal perfectly.
Make the batter: Be sure to make this batter after you prep the flowers. You don’t want to the batter to sit around and start to thicken. Combine the flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the white wine while mixing your dry ingredients. The batter is ready when it resembles a thick, liquidy pancake batter.
Fry the flowers: In a large, high-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat your olive oil. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan and the flowers.
When the oil is hot and shimmering, dip the flowers in the batter, let the excess batter drip back into the bowl, and add them to pan. They should sizzle quickly and start to brown. When deeply browned on all sides, remove the flowers from the oil and set them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Serve immediately. Recipe serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer. Enjoy!