Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fiori di Zucca

Here we have the first zucchini blossoms of the season, promising one of the most delicious and fleeting of garden delicacies: stuffed squash flowers or fiori di zucca. I have posted before about my general disappointment with edible flowers -- the humble chive notwithstanding. Well, here is yet another exception. When stuffed with cheese and served forth with a light sauce, these zucchini flowers offer a gentle and unsurpassed garden-y flavor, an opportunity to savor the essence of early summer.

Now, many recipes call for just cooking with the flowers themselves, but for a more visually appealing and delicious variation, try to use flowers still attached to slender baby squash, like the one pictured above. Needless to say, this is a gardener's recipe. I have occasionally seen the flowers for sale at the farmer's market, albeit at a shocking price. I also wonder how well they hold up on the ride home, as my flowers start to fade after a few minutes on the counter. I have never seen for sale the stage of flower I am calling for -- half blossom, half fruit. All else aside, I would grow zucchini just to have access to this ingredient.

It can be painful to harvest these immature squash -- early season scarcity erases the memory of a late summer kitchen overflowing with 3 pound monstrosities. I repeat to myself that soon enough I will be churning out more zucchini breads, pasta sauces and pickles than my family can handle. Sacrificing a few early fruits is a small price to pay for this exquisite plate of food.

Fiori di Zucca
(adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano)

12 zucchini flowers, gently opened and stamens removed
1 cup of soft goat cheese, room temperature
1 egg
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound of cherry tomatoes, preferably 'sun gold'
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for sauteing
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 fresh basil leaves
more basil for garnish, cut into chiffonade

1. In a bowl, stir together cheese, egg, scallions, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stuff a heaping tablespoon into each blossom and set aside.

2. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, 1/2 cup olive oil, vinegar, basil leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Blend until smooth and pour through a strainer into a small bowl.

3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking sheet with paper towels.

4. Heat a saute pan over medium-high and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Gently fry the flowers in small batches, flipping once, until golden brown on either side. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you are cooking the rest.

5. Put 2 or 3 blossoms on a plate, drizzle with the tomato sauce. Garnish with basil chiffonade.

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