My Italian immigrant grandfather had the most amazing vegetable garden – there was even a fig tree and concord grape vine! My sister and I were just talking about how there are so many “taste memories” we have from those days. Among the many annual treats, I remember when Pop-Pop would tell us that the “pumpkin flowers” were ready to pick. These, of course, would be the zucchini blossoms and were we ever ready for them: all lightly battered and fried up, they never lasted more than about ten minutes out of the pan!
So now, whenever I find zucchini blossoms at our local farmer’s market, I simply can’t resist buying a bunch (or two!) and making them at home. Sometimes I just batter and fry them, other times I go all out and stuff them before frying them up. Either way, they remain a treat and don’t last long around here!
These were the gorgeous blossoms I picked up last week from Nichols Farm & Orchard at the Green City Market in Chicago. I think no one has ever summed up their natural beauty better than the iconic Italian chef Marcella Hazan, as she describes discovering zucchini blossoms at markets in her book Marcella Cucina:
“The male flowers, marvelous when opened up flat and fried with a thin flour-and-water batter, grow attached not to the zucchini, but to a stem, and are gathered, several in a bunch, to make bold orange-yellow posies that outshine anything in the market.”
And oh, how they shine! By the way, I think it is interesting to note that no zucchini are sacrificed along the way, since the inedible female flowers are the ones attached to the zucchini themselves – so we get to enjoy the best of both worlds.
This batch of blossoms were so big and bold, that I decided to stuff them. While there are many fillings (assorted cheese combinations, tomatoes, onions) and several cooking methods (including steaming) for stuffed zucchini blossoms, I thought I would share my preparation with you here. For me, this is tradition on a plate, so I keep it pretty simple… I don’t want to lose the flavor of the blossoms themselves in the process.
First, start heating up your oil. Using an oil with a high smoke point (like sunflower or grapeseed oil) is best, so that the oil doesn’t “burn”. Burnt oil makes for a bitter taste, creates a lot of unnecessary smoke, and can be carcinogenic.
I like getting the oil started on low heat, while I’m preparing everything else. Eventually we want it between 360⁰ and 370⁰ F. You can always raise the heat later if it’s not hot enough when you’re ready to fry. It is always harder to cool oil down than to heat it up, so you don’t want to heat it too quickly at this point. Just clip your candy/oil thermometer to the side of your pan and you’re all set.
Now onto the filling! As I mentioned, you’ll find all sorts of fillings out there. While many of them are certainly delicious, I find they can sometimes overwhelm the delicate flavor of the blossom, which is why I prefer to stick with a simple ricotta cheese-based filling.
I like using full-fat ricotta cheese, as I find that the lower fat content versions can sometimes become a little watery, and you really want this mixture to hold together well. Mix together the ricotta cheese, some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a bit of very thinly sliced scallion (or chives), lemon zest and black pepper. You’ve probably noticed that I do not add salt. The Parmigiano is a bit salty and you will also be sprinkling salt on the finished blossoms at the end. All of this is “to taste”: mix together what tastes good to you – trust me, you’ll know when it’s right. For a final little bit of “oomph” I grate just a bit of fresh nutmeg – keep in mind a little goes a long way!
Now the flavors in the filling can meld together while you prepare your batter.
This will be a “thin” batter, almost tempura-like in texture. Keep in mind that the blossoms are delicate, so all you really want is the lightest of batter coating them. I use about half a cup of all-purpose flour and about three-quarters of a cup of club soda (or seltzer water). You’ll want the consistency of the batter to just coat the back of a spoon, so go ahead and adjust the flour and soda if you need to.
Once the flour and soda is whisked together, you can see how frothy and light the soda keeps the batter.
At this point, you’re ready to get to the good stuff: stuffing and frying up those zucchini blossoms! Now is a good time to check the temperature of your oil. You may need to increase the heat on your oil so that it will be between 360⁰ and 370⁰ F in about ten minutes.
I thought that it would be easier to show you the steps in a video rather than individual photos, so here you go.
As you can see, the process is not a difficult one, just take your time – this is meant to be fun, not a chore! Cleaning up the little outer leaves will keep the finished blossoms pretty and removing the stamen is pretty critical – you don’t want the bitter taste it can impart. You can see that I removed the stamen once I opened the blossom. Using a small spoon to stuff these, I knew I would be opening the blossom anyway so I just removed the stamen at that point. However, if you prefer to stuff your blossoms using a piping bag, you can leave the blossom intact, reach inside to remove the stamen and simply pipe your filling in from the top. Finally, keep in mind that frying the blossoms will likely cause the temperature of the oil to drop a bit, so keep an eye on your heat and increase/decrease it, as needed.
At last, beautifully stuffed zucchini blossoms. Give them a try – and enjoy!
If you’re looking for an amazing Italian summer wine to go with those stuffed zucchini blossoms, all wines at The Chopping Block are 10% off through the end of August. Think about picking up a crisp, fresh Pinot Grigio from Bozen; maybe the Nero d’Avola from Sicily, that I like to think of as Italy’s answer to Pinot Noir; or something with a little bit of sparkle like the Adami Prosecco (really, who doesn’t like bubbles?). Any one of these wines is less than $20… and that’s before the discount!
Finally, if are you interested in learning more about wonderful ways to enjoy vegetables, consider signing up for Vegan BBQ on the Grill. Is Italy on your mind? Take a look at the Italian Surf & Turf grilling class or our popular Pasta Workshop. And for a real treat, sign up for the Farmer’s Market Tour & Cooking Class where you tour the market with one of our chefs then enjoy a cooking class and full meal utilizing your bounty. You’ll never walk through a farmer’s market the same way again!