Fiori dello Zucchini

When Steve and I were in Nice earlier this year, we ate fried zucchini* flowers.

The zucchini is a popularly cultivated summer squash which often grows to nearly a meter in length, but which is usually harvested at half that size or less.  Zucchini, like all squash, has its ancestry in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called zucchini were developed in Italy, many generations after their introduction from the New World.

Did you know that zucchini flowers are gendered?  The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each emergent zucchini.  The zucchini is an immature fruit, being the swollen ovary of the female zucchini flower.

Female zucchini with fruit

The male flower grows directly on the stem of the zucchini plant in the leaf axils (where leaf petiole meets stem), on a long stalk, and is slightly smaller than the female.

Male flower on a stem

Both flowers are edible, and are often used to dress a meal or garnish the cooked fruit.

Zucchini with flowers attached, Nice

I was slightly disappointed that the ones we had in France weren’t stuffed with anything.  A gardening friend let me pick some courgette* flowers from her veg patch and we decided to make our own.

*The word zucchini comes from Italian meaning a small squash or immature marrow.   Courgette, on the other hand, is the French term for zucchini.  It is a diminutive of courge, French for squash.   Zucchini is used by those people who speak North American and Australian English whereas courgette is used by those who speak French, British, New Zealand and South African English.

The recipes called for such yummy and diverse fillings as rice, beef, chicken, sausage and of course, cheese, all flavoured with minced onions and/or fresh herbs and perhaps served with a sauce.  We chose this recipe and had a trial run to see if these would be good to have at the front end of a dinner party.

Pan-fried Zucchini Flowers

For the batter

  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 large  egg

Mix flour, salt and water in a large bowl.   Set aside and let stand for 1 hour.   Just before dipping the flowers into the batter whisk in the egg.

For the stuffing

  • 1 large  egg – lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 shallot – finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garden herbs (flat leaf parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and sage)
  • 3-4 tablespoons minced prosciutto
  • 1/2 teaspoon  salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix the egg, ricotta, shallot, herbs, prosciutto, salt and pepper until well blended and set aside.

  • 16 large or 20 small fresh zucchini flowers
  • 1/2 cup olive oil for pan-frying (or enough oil to cover the pan generously)

To stuff the flowers – make a slit lengthwise in each flower and remove the stamen. Using a dessert spoon, place a small amount of the stuffing at the base of each flower and twist the petals so that the stuffing is held safely inside the flower.

Stamens removed and ready to stuff

Heat a large heavy-bottom skillet to high heat.   Add the oil.

When the oil is hot, dip each flower in the batter and add them to the pan.   Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until golden.   Flip the flowers and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until golden.   Repeat until all flowers have been used, reducing the heat to medium-high when the pan is very hot so the oil doesn’t burn.  These become soggy very quickly, so serve immediately!

We have a huge kitchen with a table that can be extended to seat 8 people,  so we plan to begin the party there with Prosecco and fried zucchini flowers, then move into the dining room for the next few courses.

Size does matter
Commercial growers have standardized their terminology relating to courgettes, zucchinis and marrows:

  • Courgettes are the baby fruit of several types of marrow, harvested when they are 14 x 4 cm long, the size of a cigar.
  • Zucchinis are the fruits of the same plant harvested when they are 15 to 20 cm long.
  • Marrows are the semi-mature fruits which have reached full size.  Marrows can be stuffed, but aren’t as tasty as the young fruit.  They’re often grown for ‘Biggest Marrow’ competitions by English gentlemen of a certain age.

Frank and his Giant Marrow, Royal Bath and West Show, England


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