Baked Zucchini Flowers are a Healthy and Unique First Course Dish
Zucchini Flowers: An Italian Delicacy Baked or Fried
I have eaten zucchini flowers only a few times, and each time this Italian delicacy meets my mouth, I simply crave for more, more, more. How simple these delicate flowers are to discover and eat, how could it be that it has taken me more than four decades of my ‘youth’ to discover them? (Which is incredible because after doing foodie research I found that these flowers are also well consumed in Mexico and Greece-have I been sleeping?)
These cooked zucchini flowers are all over various restaurant menus in Rome and Italy, consumed in pizzerias and trattorias. My first taste of these was stuffed and baked at a typical restaurant in Bologna called Ristorante Cesarina, I guess you could say I was hooked. How can you not be? This is hot comfort food that makes you fall on the floor it tastes so good (and it looks pretty on the plate too).
The recipe below, made over the long July 4th weekend, tries to emulate that dish, that first time I had stuffed zucchini flowers. (and my ‘humble’ comment is that my 15 year-old nephew loved this recipe, I was chuffed!).
The second way I have eaten zucchini flowers was the fried version at Osteria Broccaindosso. The flowers were dipped in flour, then deep-fried like tempura and sprinkled with sea salt. This is a popular way to eat flowers, drop dead (again) good, but I prefer the baked version because I don’t like to fry my veggies (they are too precious to me to fry because I feel you lose the base taste of the food and destroy some of the healthy characteristics of the vegetables). Plus, the baked version scores higher on the ‘this is healthy food list.’ Still, kids love the fried version too and if you are a tourist in Italy look out for fiori di zucca fritta in Rome, Bologna or around Italy, they are good and a must try.
How to pick your own zucchini flowers
The summer season brings an abundance of zucchini flowers for purchase in Italy. Dommage, it is not the same here in New Jersey. I know there are a zillion zucchini plants growing around (this is the Garden State!) but I have never seen zucchini flowers for sale. Ditto for France. My sister said the Italian restaurant she works at in New Jersey has them shipped in to prepare for the menu, so ask around or visit your local farmers market and ask the zucchini producers if they would sell you some flowers. (Note: they have to stay cold or they will wilt). Do you have a zucchini flower source to share?
But getting to the fun part. Why not pick your own flowers? Do you have a zucchini plant that is filled with flowers? Or have a nice sister-in-law (like me) or friend, or parent that will let you take some flowers off their plant? If you pick flowers off a plant, pick a few male flowers but leave the female ones on the plant or you will not have any zucchini to harvest. In order to pollinate the female flowers, leave some males on for the bees to pollinate the females.
Female flowers with their thicker stems are the ones producing the zucchini. Avoid picking these or wait until the flowers come off.
Here is a male flower (in picture below). The stems of the male flower are thinner. Leave some on the plant or the female flowers will not pollinate and produce fruit. Most chefs cut out the stamen (the middle part of the flower) before preparing.
Why you should try these zucchini flower Italian delicacies: (hint-easy and tasty)
It is molto European to eat everything on the vegetable, why should the flowers go to waste? These flowers have a unique taste and are easy to make. And this is one food that it is best to get local. These flowers are fragile so if you will not use them right away, they can stay a day or two in the refrigerator wrapped in damp paper towels. And a hint to make this recipe a success-use a pastry filler to stuff them or have a cooking partner hold open the flower while you fill them. I used a small spoon by myself to stuff these and it was a bit messy.
Recipe for Baked Zucchini Flowers with Ricotta Tomato Cream
Ingredients (serves 4 as a first course)
- 8 fresh zucchini flowers, cleaned delicately under cold water and dried carefully with stamen removed
- 4 ounces of whole milk ricotta cheese (or low-fat ricotta cheese as a substitute)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 8 cherry tomatoes or 2 plum tomatoes, diced
- 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese
- approximately 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 8 fresh basil leaves,chopped
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Note: you can stuff the zucchini flowers a few hours ahead of serving, then keep refrigerated and take out to room temperature before baking. These flowers taste best just cooked out of the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix cheeses, diced tomatoes and beaten egg. Add the basil and a dash of sea salt and pepper and gently blend all ingredients.
- Use a baking dish big enough to fit the zucchini flowers flat to cook. Oil the bottom of the dish with a small amount of the extra virgin olive oil.
- Using a pastry filler, very carefully fill each zucchini flower with the ricotta tomato cream. You can also fill the flowers with a small spoon, but ask for a cooking buddy and have the other person hold open the flower while you put the cream in.
- Stuff each flower so that there is enough filling, but do not overfill. Wrap the flower completely around the stuffing and place each flower on the well oiled baking pan.
- After all the flowers are stuffed, brush the tops of the flowers with the rest of the olive oil.
- Approximately 20 minutes before serving, put the baking dish into the oven and cook for 15 minutes.
Perfect recipe to move into the summer months, right? Have you reached the end and want to see more recipes and French and Italian inspired health tips and recipes? Why not subscribe to the BrightonYourHealth monthly newsletter and article updates? Just click on the link and add your email. I promise not to spam you nor give your email address away!