The Orange crowns of courgettes
…and the pleasures of one of the most delicate of Italian dishes: Fiori di Zucca Friti.
What happens if you feel like serving stuffed Zucchini Flowers for you guests (My daughter Daphne and Udi), arriving for a visit from the UK to Tel-Aviv? and zucchini flowers are hard to impossible to get by? Here in the Mid East most zucchinis are of the Lebanese summer squash type (Kusa in Arabic) which are often lighter green or even white, and are sold fully matured with no flower in sight, not as baby courgettes or courgette flowers.
Well I guess you have to start at the local nursery, buy a bag of courgette seeds. These come in a large variety, and since I am not in Italy where these are sold in the market (in season, April – June) I have to go for the fastest growing period 2-3 weeks from sawing the seed till the huge Male flowers (mainly) grow with all their Orangey Yellow regal glow, so attractive to look at and large enough to stuff with ease with any stuffing of your choice, than fried in light tempura style batter and Bob’s your Uncle… (Bob’s your uncle’ is an exclamation that is used when ‘everything is working according to plan…’ with simple means of getting a successful result after following all instructions – English slang)
So at the nursery I chose The Best of British F1 Hybrid, which has the largest male flowers (easier to stuff) and fast to mature to their flowering state.Other variety to contemplate is Courgette Nano Verde di Milano (High yielding squash Flowers seeds).
So…Three weeks prior to the meal I saw the seeds in a small sawing pot and than move them into an outdoor large pot, where thereafter they seem to be growing by the minute (rather than the day) you could almost hear them growing into the summer sun and soon enough after two and a half weeks flower stems of green orange and yellow started to sprout, what a delightful sight… So bright yellow with a hue of dark orange, zucchini flowers are so alluring to look at, that you get your cooking ideas just as you look at them.
I did not expect all the 11 seeds to sprout or to get so many flowers off each plant, but there you go, all sprouted on time and yielded an enormous amount of flowers daily, for several weeks, which lasted us for, quit a few meals, Heaven!!!
Growing Guide (from the Sutton directions on the pack)
Soil preparation: Zucchini likes well-drained, fertile soil that’s been amended with lots of compost, give your plants a lot of room to spread out and grow. Plant them well apart in rows. (That I did not do)
Planting: Plant seed outdoors when the soil temperature has reached 15°C (60°F), not to worry we are in the Middle East the average outside temperature is around 30°C and over.
Watering: Zucchini like consistently moist soil. To prevent problems with disease, always water from below.
Fiori di Zucca are irresistible when you shop at farmer’s markets around Italy. My favorite way is to deep-fry them stuffed with goat cheese stuffing in a very light beer batter.
Choose freshly flowers picked early in the morning (these ones are tightly closed and bug bug-free). Do not rinse them and let them open with their stems in a water pot like any ordinary flowers if the petals do not spread out separate the petals gently with your finger. Male flowers only have a stems, no squash attached, female flowers with baby zucchini attached are delicious as the baby zucchini need very little cooking to become tender and 4 minutes frying is just right.
If you store them for a later time Zucchini flowers should be refrigerated and tightly sealed, they will keep as fresh for about 24 hours.
One of the pleasures of summer in Italy are fried stuffed zucchini flowers, thin, crisp fiori stuffed with melted Mozzarella cheese sometimes “spiced” with anchovies or various cheeses, or spread over a pizza.
Always use the blossoms as soon as possible after picking, as they will start to wilt after a day.
The Beer Batter:
1 egg wisked
some flour to thicken the batter
salt to taste
3-4 table spoon of beer to achieve consistency (light)
Whisk a bit of flour with one egg until thick, than add beer slowly (it foams at first, and dilutes the batter fairly quickly so add flour if needed to thicken the batter) to a consistency of light cream. Dip the flowers in the batter, give them a twirl to get rid of any excess batter, and deep fry them in hot oil constantly turning until they turn golden about two to four minutes.
The aim is to achieve a solid thick enough stuffing that can be rolled to small sausage (right photo)
Grated left over dry goats cheeses
1 ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese cut to small cubes
2 spoons of fresh goats cheese
freshly cut oregano or thyme
Anchovy fillets, cut into small squares (optional)
20 large Zucchini blossoms
In a small bowl, stir together the egg add some 2-3 tablespoons of flour and the salt. Add the beer and whisk just until blended.
In a deep frying pan, pour enough oil to a depth of 5-7cm. heat the oil until a bit of the batter sizzles when dropped in.
4-5 at a time, dip the flowers into the batter dish, carefully turning to coat each flower completely. Lift out and let the excess drip off. Slip the battered flowers into the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer the fried blossoms to paper towels to drain and season with salt. Serve immediately.
Fiori di zucca are so delicate and delicious you could / should be “creative” with your stuffing of choice. Stuffing with mozzarella will melt inside the fried blossom and ooze out as you bite on it, what else could you want.
For the same meal I have also prepared:
*”Conserved” white Tuna following an old Italian tradition of preserving cooked fish in brine covered by olive oil, salt and herbs called conservata.
*A salad of roasted Endive, Arugula, white peach, Figs and Roquefort.
*Carpaccio of fresh scallops in Yuzu, Lime, Black Caviar and Nasturtium flowers.
*”Sashimi” of white Tuna in Yuzu, chili oil and wasabi sesame.
Tomato Salad with Tulum cheese and oven roast eggplants with chili and garlic
This is the midst of summer
Refreshing Champagne, and light white wines are in Order and so we had:
E. Barnaut Grand Reserve, NV Grand cru Champagne (from Bouzy) that was sublime and perfect with the scallops and “Sashimi” a real gem of a perfectly dry but fruity (citrus) champagne, with over 60% Pinot Noir you can actually feel the “traces” of strawberries and cherries on the nose and palate from this little known small champagne house.
We proceeded with a sip of the wonderful Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV Champagne (from Ambonnay), which was equally refreshing still more complex with glorious golden colour, with nice touches of toasted brioch, roasted hazel nuts, peach and apple peel. Delicate bobbles and well balanced; this is turning into a summer feast…
The 2012 Cloudy Bay which in theory was the perfect wine for the occasion but turned to be on the floral side, with very little sauvignon blanc characteristics and leaning too much to the sweet side lacking the expected crispiness.
Don’t despair we don’t have to pop into a far away wine shop or even the local corner shop to find a good replacement for this “disappointment” just a few steps down to the basement and into the cellar where we gamble on an eleven years old Sancere: 2002 Domaine Roger Champault Sancerre Le Clos du Roy, Loire, France. Another go on a Sauvignon Blanc, this time left us surprised, after all this wine is over 10 years of age but the distinctively smoky, gunflint character of Loire Sauvignon Blanc from this area is so well defined here, this is a classic Sancerre palate that is described by Loire locales as: “pierre a fusil” – The aromas and flavour of Gun flint which define this wine (some say the pronounced minerality reminds the taste of the fossil stone, though the spelling should go like “pierre a fossil”, well in any case it had these qualities I guess I am drawn to wine through these oddities of odd flavours, its usual brilliant pale gold turned to deep gold and it felt more ripe than the crisp side, citrus aromas were felt with enough acidity to keep the wine fresh and appealing. The wine is round and by now lacking the sharp edges of youth, yet if felt fresh on the palate with a nice long finish. I guess that this wine was described as: “almost unripe” when tasted (by others at 2003), actually helped it to survive and our “patience” paid off a decade later.
Today is Jewish New Year’s Eve. So Happy New Year to all (of all persuasions)