Hello SUMMER! When you start to see zucchini flowers or summer squash blossoms, it’s a clear indication that summer is in full swing. It’s truly ineradicable to see how happy people get when these small, very delicate flowers start to blossom. They are a perfect summertime treat. Zucchini flowers are one of those foods that many people hold dear. They evoke warm memories of growing up, picking the flowers in the garden and working alongside grandma or grandpa to help pick, clean, stuff and cook them. For others, zucchini flowers might be a bit less nostalgic, but somehow they, too, have fallen in love with these beautiful edible delicacies.
Well, the anticipation is over, we are in mid-summer and these lightly flame-colored flowers are now plentiful. And, the time to enjoy them is now! Don’t wait, because they disappear fast. Many specialty grocery stores might carry them here and there during the summer months. Your best bet is to try carousing your local Farmers Markets.
Usually the stalls that showcase squashes will have zucchini and squash blossom flowers. If you don’t see them, I suggest talking to the farmer or whoever is their representing the farm. Tell them that you are in GREAT need of zucchini blossoms. Chances are they’ll be able to come back the following week with some gorgeous zucchini flowers just for you. And then you’re good to go!
The recipe below is one I’ve been making for a long time. It has some of my favorite Italian cheeses (ricotta and provolone) in it with a touch of minced anchovy ,thinly cut prosciutto and a little lemon zest to help bring all the flavors together. Trust me this is a MUST-make and it’s delicious. Yes, you can make it meat-free, just leave out the prosciutto. If you’re not vegetarian, I suggest leaving it in; it adds a wonderful flavor. Once the zucchini flowers are cleaned and stuffed, I like to dip them in a light tempura batter. This kind of batter doesn’t mask the flavors of the zucchini flowers, and it adds a nice crunch to them once they’re cooked. Lastly, please watch the “how to” video at the bottom of this post. You’ll pick up some great tips before you start.
Now a word to the wise. Be careful with this recipe, because once you’ve eaten zucchini flowers made this way it’s nearly impossible to stop eating them. Well, you’ll have to stop once the season for them ends, but until then – BUON APPETITO!
Tempura Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
(Serves 4-6 people)
- 12 zucchini flowers, rinsed well, stamens and pistils removed
- 3-4 cups of frying oil
- 1 cast iron skillet, or a deep heavy gauged pot for frying
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated mild provolone
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, grated
- 4 -6 basil leaves, chiffonade
- 5-7 Italian parsley leaves, chiffonade
- 4-5 thin slices of prosciutto (optional)
- 4-5 anchovy fillets, finely minced with a fork
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup (ice-cold) seltzer water, club soda, or sparkling water
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
- Sift the flour, cornstarch and salt together into a bowl.
- Whisk in the ice-cold seltzer water, club soda, or sparkling water
- Add the egg and salt and whisk well to ensure that the egg is totally incorporated.
- Wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Tip: It is best to work with the batter cold. If you are frying large batches or working in a very warm kitchen place the batter over a bowl of ice water. This is a great trick especially when frying up large batches or cooking them outside in the summer heat.
Working with the zucchini flowers
The zucchini flowers are very delicate, so when picking them and storing them for use be very gentle. The perfect time to pick them is early morning, before the strong sun comes out.
The reason for this is that, during this time, most of the flowers will be open making it much easier to clean and fill. Personally, if I pick a batch in the early morning, I immediately clean and stuff them. Waiting can result in the flowers closing which defeats the whole purpose of picking them early in the morning to catch the open ones.
To Make: Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
Step 1: Cleaning the flowers
- Carefully rinse off the zucchini flowers under cold, gently-running water. Be sure to get all bits of dirt and any insects off the flowers.
- If the flowers are already open, gently rinse the inside with water too.
- Trim off any prickly parts at the base of the flower.
- If the flowers are closed, carefully tear one side of the flower open, using a scissor, or very carefully open it with your fingers and carefully remove the stamens and/or pistils
- Pat them dry, and then leave them to dry further on a kitchen towel.
Step 2: Preparing the filling
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl add the ricotta, provolone, egg, basil, parsley, prosciutto, anchovies and lemon zest. Mix all well.
- Adjust the seasoning with the salt and pepper.
- If not stuffing immediately, you can wrap the bowl and reserve in the refrigerator.
Tip: Keep in mind that the provolone and the anchovies will add some saltiness, so always add salt after they’ve been added.
Tip: Sometimes I make the stuffing a day or two prior to buying or picking my zucchini flowers. This way, once you have the flowers, you’ll have one less step to prepare, and you’ll be closer to enjoying them!
Step 3: Stuffing the zucchini flowers
- Carefully open the flowers and add generous teaspoon or so of filling. Fill them only about half way up from the bottom.
Tip: Another reminder. These flowers are very delicate so handle them with care while you’re filling them.
- Once they are filled, very carefully twist the top of the flower to seal the filling in.
- Repeat with the remaining flowers.
- Refrigerate the flowers for 10-15 minutes, to set the filling.
- This will make them much easier to work with when dipping them in the batter and frying them.
Tip: Once they are stuffed and twisted closed, place them in a container large enough to hold them side by side in a single layer. Do not place them on top of the other, they may break or loose their beautiful stuffed shapes. Then, place a very lightly dampened kitchen towel over them and cover all with plastic wrap or a tight fitting lid. Now, the hard part is done. Simply store them in the refrigerator until you’re ready for frying.
Step 4: Frying the zucchini flowers
- Heat the oil to 350°
- Add the frying oil to a cast iron skillet or heavy-gauged pot.
Tip: You can test the oil to see if it’s up to temperature by dropping in a crouton-sized piece of bread or potato. If it colors up quite quickly to a golden brown, the oil should be fine for frying the zucchini flowers.
- Remove the batter from the refrigerator just before frying.
- Whisk it to make sure it is homogeneous.
Tip: Don’t worry if the batter looks too thin; it is supposed to be. This kind of batter crisps up beautifully, allowing the shape and beautiful colors of the flowers to shine through.
- Work with the flowers carefully to make sure filling doesn’t fall out as you dip them
- Add your battered flowers to the hot oil in small batches. I suggest cooking no more than 3 at a time.
- You want to do this in a controllable way so the flowers come out crisp and beautiful.
Tip: As they are frying up, you can drizzle a little additional tempura batter over any areas that you feel need a little more. I suggest doing this within the first few seconds of frying them.
- Scoop out any loose fried bits of batter floating in the oil as you move along.
- Cook the flowers for about 2 minutes on each side until crisp and light golden brown.
- Remove one at a time.
- Place them on a tray lined with absorbent paper.
- Sprinkle them with a little salt while still hot.
- Repeat with all flowers.
- Serve immediately
These are absolutely delicious and make the perfect summertime treat. Enjoy!