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Zucchini Blossoms

2009/08/06

A brief respite on my Chicago writing as a trip to the market this weekend yielded inspiration from one of my favourite things – zucchini blossoms. I’ve been eating them since I was little, as my Nonna would often pick them from the garden for a quick fry-up – stuffed or not. As an homage to that, I invited a few neighbours over to snack on blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and mint.

Zucchini blossoms

Zucchini blossoms

Between a relaxing cappuccino and pastry, market trips, and simply enjoying the city, Saturday mornings are probably my favourite of the week. Another great thing about Saturday mornings? One of my local butchers has fresh ricotta delivered. So fresh that when you pick it up, it’s still warm! I may or may not sneak a spoonful and drizzle it with honey immediately when I get in the door. Or spread it on a piece of baguette with a sprinkling of fleur de sel.

Drained fresh ricotta

Drained fresh ricotta

Ricotta must be very well drained when stuffing blossoms or preparing other things like gnocchi. I lined a sieve with rinsed cheesecloth and set it in a bowl with ample room underneath to catch the whey. The whole thing went in the fridge for a few hours and the result was what you see above.

Ricotta and mint filling

Ricotta and mint filling

The drained ricotta went into a bowl with some chopped mint, freshly grated nutmeg and Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, and pepper. One lightly beaten egg was added to bind everything together.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and mint

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and mint

When working with zucchini blossoms, they gently need to be opened up to make sure there are no creepy-crawlers inside. The stamen should be removed as they are bitter. Trim the stems back and remove any leaves at the base. I never wash zucchini blossoms, giving them a light wipe with a towel instead. Now I realize the filling is really tasty, but more isn’t necessarily better. Don’t overstuff the blossoms! If you do they will burst during frying. Your tears + oil are probably not the best combination in the world. Twist the ends of the blossoms closed and batter and fry in hot oil.

I prefer a very light tempura-style batter made from half flour, half cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and sparkling water (San Pellegrino, San Benedetto, or whatever you have on hand). The keys are to barely stir together the batter and to keep it very, very cold. I set a bowl with the batter in a larger ice-water bath and dredge the blossoms in batches just before they go into the hot oil. Cold batter hitting hot oil results in a very thin, very crispy, almost translucent coating.

Zucchini blossoms in the fryer

Zucchini blossoms in the fryer

It should only take a few minutes to fry up each batch. Turn the blossoms as needed so the batter fries evenly. You’re not looking for golden brown, just crispy.

Fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and mint

Fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta and mint

Drain on a rack and lightly sprinkle with fleur de sel. Note that you can barely see the tempura, but it’s definitely there! As tempting as they look, they did just come out of hot oil. A couple friends couldn’t wait and ended up burning their mouths!

Not realizing how many zucchini blossoms were in the container I got from the market, I had a bunch of leftovers. What to do with leftover blossoms and ricotta? Clearly the solution is to make a frittata!

Zucchini blossom, mint, fresh ricotta frittata

Zucchini blossom, mint, fresh ricotta frittata

A dozen eggs well beaten, sliced zucchini blossoms, fresh mint, ricotta, sauteed shallots, salt, and pepper in a pan, baked at 350F until almost cooked through then set under the broiler to brown the top. Makes for a great brunch, lunch, light supper, or even in a sandwich.

More Chicago stuff to come, including a post on some of the best Mexican food I’ve had.

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