When summer rolls around, Americans know how to take advantage of seasonal ingredients better than anyone else I know. We bake up peach pies and blueberry cobblers, grill or steam corn on the cob, cut up whole watermelons for dessert, or toss it in to salads if we’re feeling creative. However, I’ve noticed that my very favorite seasonal ingredient is noticeably absent in American summer cuisine: fiori di zucca, or zucchini flowers.
I know what you’re thinking, if you're not Italian – zucchini flowers? Why would anyone want to eat a flower? Don’t those belong in a garden instead of on a plate? In reality, these flowers, (which, as the name suggests, grow from zucchini) are completely edible, and have a mild delicate flavor. They are very popular in Italy and especially in Rome, where fried, stuffed zucchini flowers are found on almost every menu and served as an appetizer. They are on par with bucatini all’amatriciana and suppli’ for me, one of my very favorite dishes in the deliciousness that is Roman cuisine.
The common filling for these flowers here in the Eternal City is mozzarella cheese and anchovy, which is a flavor match made in heaven – the saltiness of the anchovy balances the mild mozzarella perfectly. However, I realize that anchovies aren’t for everyone, so I’ve also provided a recipe for a ricotta and basil filling which is equally delicious. Or, if you want to make things even easier, you could leave out the filling all together and just fry the flowers, as my Nonna Ada does. The batter here is absolutely perfect, with beaten egg whites as the secret ingredient that creates a light, fluffy exterior for the zucchini flowers. These are not at all heavy or greasy, and they barely even seem fried (which means of course you can indulge guilt free!)
If you’d like, you can also serve these as a light lunch with a green salad instead of as an appetizer – I can’t imagine anything better to enjoy on a summer afternoon. Enjoy!
FRIED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS
16 zucchini flowers
¾ cup flour
¾ cup warm water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
2 egg whites beaten to very stiff peaks
For the fillings:8 anchovy fillets cut in half
16 small pieces of mozzarella cheese
16 small pieces of mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup basil, chopped
Olive oil for frying
Whisk the water and flour together in a large bowl and add the olive oil. Let the batter rest for 2 hours in the fridge, covered.
When the two hours are up, prepare the zucchini flowers. Remove the pistils (female flowers) and stamens (male flowers) from the flowers. Gently wash the flowers in a bowl of cold water and pat dry.
If you choose to stuff the zucchini flowers: stuff each flower with a piece of mozzarella and anchovy, or stir together the ricotta and basil and stuff a spoonful in to each flower. Gently twist the ends of the petals together (this will prevent the filling from coming out during frying).
Using electric beaters, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and using a large spoon, fold in the flour and water mixture that was resting in the fridge. Add a good pinch of salt and stir well.
Heat the a good inch or two of olive oil in a large pan (I usually use a skillet and do a shallow fry). Test the oil by dropping a small amount of batter into the oil. If it begins to cook and brown after about a minute, it is ready. Dip a flower into the batter and place in the oil to fry until puffed and a golden, using a slotted spoon to turn them around for even browning. This will only take a few minutes. I usually fry these two or three at a time – don’t try and do too many at a time, or the temperature of the oil will drop too low and you will end up with soggy zucchini flowers.
Remove the flowers from the pan and place them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil. Repeat until all flowers have been fried. Sprinkle them with salt and eat right away. Makes 16 zucchini flowers.