I spent two years researching the ITALIAN FARMHOUSE cookbook, visiting farms, growers, restaurants in rural areas, and in some areas no so rural. I began with a basic knowledge of Italian food and a certain skepticism due to my French culinary training and finished the book with utmost respect. For Italy, Italians, and their sense of joy around food.
The Italian Approach
What do I mean? The way Italians approach cooking infuses each dish with radiant harmony, stunning flavor, and astonishing simplicity. While it remains traditional and authentic, with an absolute dependence on what is local, it continues to evolve.
La Cucina Povera
Much of Italian cuisine today is based on “la cucina povera” the cooking of the poor. The cooks of Italy responded to poverty with inventiveness, engendering a style of cooking that takes nothing and turns it into something amazing. Take a perfectly ripe tomato. It is cut, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with basil leaves, and ecco! A gorgeous dish. Wild greens? Plucked from the soil, they are melted in olive oil and seasoned with dried breadcrumbs and capers. Delizioso. Zucchini? Sliced and sauteed until golden with fresh rosemary, nothing is better. Except the zucchini flower, plucked of its pistil and stuffed with what is handy at the moment.
The Stuff of Dreams
And this is where we come in. When I was in Pulgia I tasted the zucchini blossom stuffed with a delicate blend of ricotta cheese and subtle spicing. Dipped in batter and fried, it was the stuff of dreams. But where did the idea come from?
From the Ottoman Empire
Probably the Ottoman Empire, if one traces the history of stuffed vegetables. In one area of that huge swath of geography, Gazientep, all vegetables were stuffed, with meat and/or grains. Travellers brought the idea to Italy, where the zucchini was introduced in the 16th century. There, the Italian cook did what she knew best, which was to use the idea and simplify, making it elegant and amazing. Thus, this recipe.
Spring? No! Much Longer!
Common wisdom says zucchini blossoms are available only in the spring. But anyone who has every planted the squash knows that blossoms burst forth throughout the vegetable’s long season. The secret is to pick them early in the morning and prepare them that day.
You’ll love this recipe because it’s more than do-able. And when you serve these watch out; you won’t have made enough because everyone will want their fill and more!
Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
- 8 good-sized zucchini flowers pistils removed, with a tiny zucchini attached if possible
- 1 cup;250ml ricotta, the best you can find
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup; 1/2 ounce;15g grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 small clove garlic minced
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Fine sea salt to taste
- 4 cups; 1 liter mild cooking oil or olive oil
- 2/3 cup;50g all-purpose flour
- 1 cup; 250ml carbonated water or seltzer
- Fleur de sel
- Very gently wipe the zucchini blossoms clean if necessary. If a small zucchini is attached, slice it lengthwise in thirds, leaving it attached to the blossom.
- Whisk together the ricotta, egg, Parmigiano, garlic, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt in a medium-sized bowl.
- Fit a pastry bag with a ¼-inch (.6cm) pastry tip. Spoon the filling into the pastry bag, then pipe equal amounts of the stuffing into each of the zucchini flowers, handling them gently.
- Heat the oil in a deep heavy saucepan over medium high heat to 375F (190C). Test the heat by dropping in a teaspoon of batter; it should float quickly to the surface and turn golden.
- Place the flour in a large bowl and whisk in the salt and the carbonated water until smooth. Line a baking sheet with clean, plain brown paper bags.
- Preheat the oven to very low (optional).
- Dip one of the flowers in the batter, making sure it is evenly and thoroughly coated. If it has a small zucchini attached, make sure it is coated as well. Hold the flower over the bowl to let any excess batter drip off, then lower it gently into the oil and cook just until the batter is crisp and golden, 4 to 5 minutes. You may do up to 3 to 4 flowers at a time depending on the size of your pan. Use a slotted spoon to remove the flowers from the oil and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, then place them in the preheated oven to stay warm, if desired.
- Arrange 2 flowers on each of 4 warmed small plates. Dust lightly with fleur de sel and serve.