Zucchini. Zoo-keen-knee. What a disconnect between its name, free-spirited and lyrical, and the vegetable, ubiquitous and obese, tasteless and dull. (I cringe at the uppityness of calling it courgette, or the spongy connotation of marrow.)
Repulsive, as Lorna Crozier describes in “The Sex Lives of Vegetables:”
The zucchini strokes the slim waists
of the pea vines, peeks under
the skirts of the yellow beans…
In secret shadows it spreads…
Except (isn’t there always an exception?) for zucchini blossoms.
Soft petals of bright orange-yellow, thin and delicate with striations of white and green, playful, like the hat on a harlequin clown. And as much fun to cook.
Zucchini blossoms have a thin texture like a gauzy velvet and a flavour that’s nuanced, faintly sweet. Like a young summer romance.
At a farmyard table on the island of Crete thirty-five years ago, we first tasted zucchini blossoms, in Greek Kolokythoanthoi. Mom and my sister Margie and I poked our noses into the kitchen, where on the stove zucchini blossoms stuffed with rice and herbs gently bubbled. I fell in love.
Because they’re extremely delicate and shrivel quickly, zucchini blossoms aren’t something you’ll see in a grocery store. It’s easiest to grow your own squash (or pumpkin) and cut the flowers.
Not being a gardener, I rely on Frostbauer and Hannah Brook Farms at the Trout Lake Famers’ Market. Usually they sell male blossoms (they don’t produce fruit) but occasionally they have female ones sprouting a baby zucchini.
It’s vital you eat them as soon as possible after they’ve been picked, within two days max. Until then, layer them gently in an open plastic bag and store in a cool, dark place. I’ve found they stay open in our small wine cellar; the second- best place is the fridge, in the crisper.
If the blossoms have wilted, put them in a bowl of warm water for about ten minutes, then shake off all the water and set them on paper towels to dry. Otherwise, don’t bother washing them, just shake off any insects hiding inside the flowers.
Gently open a petal and make a small tear down toward the stem. Remove the stamen and pistil; they’re edible but your filling is going to be tastier. Leave the stems on; they’re edible and enhance the presentation.
For years my favourite method for cooking zucchini flowers has been stuffing them with a mixture of ricotta, goat cheese, Parmesan and herbs, then steaming them for five minutes (or baking for ten minutes at 325°F—not too long or they lose their vivid colour). I serve the flowers on a grassy bed of sliced cherry tomatoes, olive oil and herbs.
Bar Kismet in Halifax makes the best fiori di zucca fritti we’ve ever tasted. Stuffed with a mixture not unlike what I’ve described above, the blossoms are then dipped into a tempura batter and deep-fried. I fell deeply in love.
(If you find a home recipe that works, please let us know. Every time we attempt fiori di zucca fritti, with or without stuffing, they’re greasy and heavy, not light, airy and crisp like Bar Kismet’s, or Burdock’s here in Vancouver, or those we’ve eaten in Spain or Italy.)
What could be more sensuous, dolce vita, than Zucchini Blossom Spaghetti for Two?
Cut small zucchinis into rounds and fry them in a little olive oil, about three minutes on each side, along with chopped shallot and thin slices of garlic. Add some butter to thicken the sauce. Toss in the cooked spaghetti and as many zucchini flowers, vertically sliced, as you like. Add salt, pepper, grated Parm and a little of the pasta-cooking liquid. My recipe, unknown source, ends with the words, “Fall in love.”
Our newly favourite way to eat zucchini blossoms comes from Kalofagas, Greek for gourmand, and the name of a blog by Peter Minaki, a Canadian expert on Greek food. I’ve halved the number of blossoms Peter suggests, maybe because Frostbauer’s are enormous this year. His recipe says to line the baking pan with slices of zucchini so I used patty pan squash because of its interesting shape. Finding vegetable broth overpowering, especially in delicate dishes like this, I baked the blossoms in a stock of white wine and water instead. The stock doesn’t reduce much while baking. Not wanting a watery dish, I let the blossoms reach room temperature, then drain off the liquid. Drizzle with the feta/yogurt sauce and sprinkle with a little paprika. You’ll be carried away to summer on a Greek isle …
- 18 zucchini blossoms
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 zucchini grated
- 1 patty-pan squash sliced in rounds
- 2 ripe tomatoes chopped
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
- salt and pepper
For the Broth
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
For the Sauce
- 1/4 cup feta
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
- a little broth saved from the sauce
- salt and pepper
- Chives or green onions
- Trim the stems. If the blossoms have wilted, place them in a bowl with warm water for 10 minutes and then set them upside-down to dry. If not, just shake them to get rid of any insects inside.
- Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions, garlic and grated tomatoes and simmer for 5-7 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the rice, wine and grated zucchini, stir to incorporate and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add some water if the liquid cooks off.
- Add the chopped fresh herbs, stir to mix all the ingredients well and take off the heat. Add some sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Line the bottom of a baking dish (one with a lid) with some slices of the patty-pan squash or zucchini. Set the oven to 375°.
- Gently open a zucchini blossom. Make a small tear and remove the pistils and stamens. Insert a tablespoon of the rice mixture into each. Fold the petals inward to seal the filling and place in a baking dish. Repeat, filling the remaining zucchini blossoms and arranging them in a taut, circular fashion.
- Add your wine/water broth and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top. Put on the lid and place
- in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the rice has cooked. Remove from the heat and allow to cool; I like them at room temperature.
- Make the sauce by mashing the feta cheese with the yogurt. Add the minced garlic and whisk in some broth depending how thick you want your sauce. Add some chopped fresh chives or green onions.
- Plate your zucchini blossoms (three per person), spoon some of the sauce over them and sprinkle with some hot (or sweet) paprika. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Crozier, Lorna. The Garden Going on Without Us. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985. Lorna (Saskatchewan-born) is one of Canada’s most distinguished living poets—and her non-fiction is award-winning, too. Witty and wise, she’s received all sorts of awards, read her poetry on eight continents and recited a poem for Queen Elizabeth II as part of Saskatchewan’s Centennial Celebration. Lorna Crozier.
Peter Minaki’s recipe for Zucchini Blossoms with Rice.