Saturday, October 8, 2011

Blossoming Beauties

Last summer, I came across the golden flowers of what I learned to be zucchini blossoms. After taking a few home to cook, I ran back the following week for more! Little did I know how difficult they'd be to find. I've seen them once or twice at Whole Foods, from Satur farms, but more often than not they can only be found every now and again at farmer's markets. Zucchini blossoms can usually be spotted in large glowing piles. They're constantly overlooked by hurried shoppers, I think mainly because most people don't know what to do with them. They're extremely delicate and are best cooked the day you buy them. Whenever I see them, I have no other choice but to purchase them, for you never know when you'll see them again. The blossoms are excellent sautéed, but I prefer to eat them battered and fried!

In my search for the perfect way to prepare these blossoming beauties, I came across Jamie Oliver's recipe for "fried ricotta stuffed zucchini blossoms." These puppies really blew me away. They're delicious! The next time you're lucky enough to spot zucchini blossoms, buy them without delay, race home, and cook them using this recipe. The great thing about them is that you can serve the blossoms as an appetizer or as a side dish, accompanied by an equally yummy garden salad. Either way, you won't be disappointed!

Adapted from Jamie Oliver, Jamie at Home

7 oz. good-quality ricotta cheese (not the supermarket kind; best bought from a specialty shop)
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
Zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 whole lemons, cut into wedges for serving
6 large mint leaves, minced (you can substitute rosemary, Italian parsley, or chives- about a ½ tsp. each), reserving a little for garnish
1 to 2 fresh red chilies, seeded and minced, reserving a little for garnish
5 grinds of freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)

½ tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)

1¼ cups self-rising flour
1½ cups white wine
8 zucchini blossoms 
Vegetable oil for frying

In a medium-sized bowl, using a whisk, firmly beat the ricotta, nutmeg, Parmesan, lemon zest, and most of the minced mint and chilies. Season well with salt and pepper.

To make the batter, whisk together the flour and wine in a medium-sized mixing bowl, along with a pinch of sea salt. This makes a nice thick batter. If it's too thick, add a little more wine. If it's too thin, add a bit more flour. 

Gently open the zucchini flowers, and using kitchen scissors, snip off the pointed stamen inside (it tastes bitter). Gently rinse the flowers in cold water and let air dry for a few minutes.

Next, spoon the ricotta mixture into the corner of a zip-top sandwich bag. Snip 1/2 inch off the corner of the bag and use this as a makeshift piping bag to gently squeeze the filling into each flower, until just full. Carefully press the flowers back together around the mixture to seal it in. Place the flowers aside. (Any leftover ricotta can be used as a spread for crackers).

Now, prep for frying. Pour enough vegetable oil into a large deep saucepan to about 4 inches deep. Using a candy/frying thermometer as a guide, heat the oil to 350 degrees (or put a slice of potato in the pot, and when it turns golden, sizzles and floats to the top, you know your oil's hot enough for frying). Have a plate lined with two sheets of paper towels near by, along with tongs or a spider for extracting the flowers from hot oil. 

One at a time, dip the stuffed zucchini blossoms into the batter, seeing that they're completely covered, gently letting the excess batter drip off. Carefully release them, away from you, into the hot oil. Fry until golden and crisp, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs or a spider, remove the flowers to the plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Fry the remaining blossoms in the same manner. Garnish with the remaining mint and chili pepper and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Yield: 8 blossoms 

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