This is a zucchini flower from The Family Plot. While we raised plenty of eyebrows planting the garden, we weren’t sure we could raise so much as a baby carrot. Much to everyone’s surprise, the beans are clawing their way up the poles, the radishes are duking it out for territory, and the tomatoes stagger under the weight of their green fruit. Meanwhile, the zucchini plants bloom quietly in a corner, hoping no one will notice until it’s too late. Sorry, Zucchini. We’re onto you.
I’ve been itching to try zucchini blossoms for years but haven’t had access to the main ingredient — ephemeral zucchini flowers. Every summer, I feel a bit jealous as a I read the culinary triumph of others with their battered and deep fried blossoms, or their stuffed-and-pan-fried flowers. I nearly choke when food writers get “bored” with this precious ingredient and skip the cooking altogether, opting to sprinkle julienned blossoms into salads and soups as if they were nothing more than a common herb.
When I finally had access to the flowers, I wanted something the whole family could sample. The simple, unfussy version from The Vegetarian Kitchen Table Cookbook by Igor Brotto and Olivier Guiriec caught my eye. Not only is their recipe garlic-free, which suits my garlic-sensitive sister, (almost) more importantly, it’s baked. This means ice cream for dessert without (too much) guilt. Everybody wins.
How to Pick Zucchini Blossoms
Unlike foraging, there’s no real trick to harvesting these. Just be sure to:
- Pick zucchini blossoms in the morning when they are closed. I picked tiny ones since the big ones had already opened, but you can pick larger ones if that’s what your plants produce.
- Select male flowers — the ones without a tiny zucchini attached. This ensures you’ll have a zucchini crop, not just memories of their delicate blooms.
- Rinse the flowers inside and out in cool water to remove all dirt and any bugs.
- Use the flowers right away, if possible. If you are using them later in the day, refrigerate them in a plastic bag.
Confession time: I don’t like parsley. I don’t grow it. I don’t cook with it. However, I have lots and lots of basil in the garden. So I used that.
Also, our small crop couldn’t produce the requisite 16 flowers. Being impatient, I picked what was ready — eight flowers. I baked these and refrigerated the leftover filling for the next crop of flowers, which should be ready today.
Other than that, I stuck to the recipe.
Even without garlic and onion, my sister said it tasted “very Italian.” The flowers themselves? From everything I’ve read, they taste faintly of zucchini, but I would say they are almost tasteless. I suspect they are coveted because they can deliver almost any filling you choose in a very pretty package.
The final dish was light, fresh and delicate. Just the kind of appetizer you want in the heat of the summer. My first instinct was to add a bit of garlic to the tomatoes but I now wonder if that would overpower the delicate flavours of the blossoms and ricotta.
There’s only one way to find out…
Zucchini Flowers with Ricotta Filling and Balsamic Vinegar
• Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
• Pastry bag fitted with medium plain tip*
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper
- 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 2⁄3 cup (150 mL) ricotta cheese
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) grated vegetarian-friendly Parmesan cheese (I used regular)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 small bunch fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped (I used basil)
- Pinch salt
- Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
- 16 zucchini flowers
- Traditional balsamic vinegar (see Tip)
- In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
- In a bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, egg yolk, parsley, salt and nutmeg. Spoon into pastry bag and pipe into zucchini flowers.
- Place stuffed flowers on prepared baking sheet, at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake in preheated oven until filling is hot, about 15 minutes.
- Divide tomato sauce equally among four individual serving plates. Serve flowers warm on top of sauce, sprinkled with a few drops of balsamic vinegar to taste.
Tip: In this recipe we use certified traditional Italian balsamic vinegar. Its authenticity is protected by consortiums in Modena and Reggio Emilia.
* My note: A piping bag definitely makes filling the flowers easy — providing you chop the herbs finely enough. I sliced the basil into ribbons, which jammed the tip occasionally. If you don’t have a piping bag, you could fill the larger flowers using a small spoon. If your blooms are small, fashion a piping bag from parchment or a ziplock bag.
Preparation time 25 minutes
Cooking time 25 minutes
Review in Brief
Target Audience: Anyone with a vegetable garden. People who visit the Farmers’ Market and wonder, “What would you do with that?” Those who love Italian food and are looking for recipes beyond the cliché. (Yes, there are other ethnic dishes, but this is predominantly Italian fare.)
Must Try Recipes:
- Eggplant Rolls with Buffalo Mozzarella
- Braised Endive in Maple Syrup
- Figs in Port
Biggest Delight: Despite the title, it’s easy to forget this cookbook is vegetarian. It’s not filled with tofu-based variations of classic meat dishes. While the recipes are healthy, the focus is on taste. The tips are based on preserving flavour, making the most of the ingredients or saving yourself some time in the kitchen. With an eye firmly on the vegetables, not protein substitutions, the authors let the vegetables take centre stage. The results are bright and fresh and vegetabley. Just as nature intended.Google+