Summer Treat: Stuffed and Fried Zucchini Flowers
Photos: Christina Uticone & Joshua Payne
I grew up in a small town in Upstate New York, with a significant Italian and Italian-American population. It wasn't until I was older that I realized many people don't consider a huge, steaming plate of linguine and white clam sauce a light snack on a hot summer day.
What I am trying to say is: the Italian kids ate a little differently, especially when we were in our grandmothers' kitchens. One of my favorite summer treats was -- and is -- fried zucchini blossoms; I particularly like them stuffed with herbed cheese. The blossoms have been readily available at the Saturday morning Urban Harvest Farmers' Market lately, and against my better judgment I'm going to share this recipe with you, even though I know it means I'm risking a blossom sell-out by the time I get to the market. These little appetizers are time-consuming, but well worth the effort.
You will need: Zucchini flowers (male--they have a stem but are not attached to a squash); AP flour; one egg; ice-cold water; salt; pepper; cream cheese or ricotta cheese; pecorino Romano; two-three cloves garlic, chopped; fresh, chopped herbs; frying oil.
Step 1: Prep the batter
Make a simple batter using all-purpose flour, ice water, one egg, and salt. I don't use exact measurements, I simply combine the egg, water, and flour until I get the mixture to the approximate consistency of whipping cream--about ½ cup flour to ¾ cup ice-cold water. I add a couple of pinches of salt, mix, and set aside to let the batter rest. Some people chill the batter but I leave it at room temperature because I like the batter to be as thin as possible.
Step 2: Prep the blossoms
Gently open each blossom and carefully remove the stamen. I find that a pair of manicure scissors works well in this situation. Try not to rip open the flower petals, as they will keep the cheese inside the flower during frying.
Step 3: Prep the filling
A blossom can be battered and fried as-is once the stamens are removed, but for an extra treat an herbed cheese stuffing is the way to go. In a bowl mix ½-¾ cup ricotta or cream cheese with the chopped garlic, salt, pepper, chopped fresh herbs, and a generous grating of another cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan. I like Pecorino Romano because it has a very sharp, distinct flavor as well as a nice salty bite. Combine the mixture to taste and transfer into a pastry bag; use a plastic sandwich bag with the corner cut out if you don't own a pastry bag.
Step 4: Filling the blossomsThis part might take a little practice until you figure out how much filling each blossom can handle. Pipe about ½ tablespoon into each flower to start; larger flowers can handle a little more filling. You don't want to fill the length of the blossom with the filling, just the base using the natural curve of the petals. The cheese will double as an adhesive; you may need to manipulate the petals to make sure they close completely around the cheese filling. Fill all the flowers before moving on to the frying phase.
Note: If you have more flowers than filling, simply batter the remaining flowers and fry them unfilled; the frying time will be shorter for unfilled flowers.
Step 5: Get Organized
Once all the flowers are stuffed I like to set up an assembly line. Left to right, I arrange: stuffed blossoms, batter bowl, frying pan with hot oil, a plate with paper towels for draining excess oil, salt for seasoning the fried blossoms.
Step 6: Battering and Frying
Heat the oil until a few drops of water gives you a sizzle. One at a time, dip the flowers into the batter, letting excess batter run off, and then drop gently into the frying oil. Depending on the size of your frying pan, only fry 4-5 blossoms at a time to keep the temperature of the oil from dropping too low. Watch the edges of the flower; when they get firm and a little golden, flip over and fry for about another 45-90 seconds. Remove the flowers from the oil and place on paper towel-covered plate; sprinkle with salt while still hot.
Note: If a blossom begins leaking the cheese filling, skim the cheese out of the oil to prevent it from burning.
Step 8: Cool and Eat
Allow the blossoms to cool for three or four minutes at least. They may feel cool to the touch, but the filling will be very hot and you will burn your tongue. Trust me--I do it every. single. time.
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