Summer is around the corner, and we can all feel it. Flowers are everywhere at this time of year, and I’m not speaking only of gardens or window boxes. In Italy, they grace tables as well.
At a recent dinner, after admiring the stunning roses, wisteria and lavender on the terrace of our hostess, Elisabetta Galluzzi, we were treated to blossoms on our plates as well. The menu featured zucchini blossoms, a rare delicacy for Americans, but a seasonal staple at this time of year in Italy.
There are two types of zucchini blossoms. The female blossoms are the ones that are found still attached to the end of the zucchini, a sign of true freshness. The male blossoms, on the other hand, are a bit larger and come on little stems of their own. These tasty little blossoms don’t store very well and in particular aren’t happy being refrigerated, so don’t buy them too long in advance.
Here are a few recipes to help you take advantage of this season’s crop of blossoms: the first is Elisabetta’s recipe for lasagna di fiori di zucchini, followed by two others from a true vegetable know-it-all, Sylvana Salvianti, our local vegetable vendor. Her fiori di zucchini fritti is a staple on Tuscan tables at this time of year, and the other is a very imaginative, simple-to-prepare and delicious creation using zucchini blossoms, potatoes and tomatoes.
ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS AND TOMATOES
(for 4 people)
This is a colorful and very savory vegetable dish, perfect to serve with a grilled meat.
125 grams (about ¼ lb)
2 large potatoes,
peeled and diced
10 cherry tomatoes
7 or 8 pieces of sun dried
1 tropea onion, diced
Salt and pepper
Over medium heat, sauté the potatoes and onion in olive oil in a large frying pan for about 10 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, wash and dry the zucchini blossoms, removing the center stamen or pistil. Chop and set aside. Chop cherry tomatoes into small pieces and set aside. Do the same with the sun-dried tomatoes. When the potatoes have become a bit soft, add the blossoms, both kinds of tomatoes, salt and pepper, and blend well. Let it cook slowly, adding a bit of water if necessary to maintain moisture, for about 10 minutes more.
FIORI DI ZUCCHINI FRITTI
This very popular way to serve zucchini blossoms seems to capture their delicate flavor perfectly. Frying them is not difficult, but they are best served soon after cooking. Prepared in this way, they are a very good aperitivo.
250 grams (about ½ pound) zucchini blossoms
1 cup flour
1 ½ cups water
Oil for frying
1. Wash the blossoms, removing the stamen or pistil, and lay them out on a towel to dry well.
2. Mix a liquid coating (about the consistency of heavy cream) by whisking the flour into the water and adding a generous dash of fresh lemon juice and a little salt.
3. Dip the blossoms into this mixture and then fry in hot oil, turning once as they brown. Set each batch of blossoms on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
4. Arrange on a platter, and garnish with a lemon wedge.
LASAGNA DI FIORI DI ZUCCHINI
(for 6 people)
1 ½ kg small zucchini, sliced thinly
3 cloves of garlic
400 grams zucchini blossoms
900 grams ricotta
1 small bunch of chives
300 grams milk
250 grams lasagna
90 grams parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1. Wash zucchini and slice into thin rounds.
2. Saute the garlic in 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and add zucchini, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until soft and tender.
3. Wash the zucchini blossoms, discarding the stems. Remove about 10 blossoms to use on the top of the dish and chop the rest. Set aside.
4. Mix ricotta in large bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. Dice the chives and add to this mixture. Add the chopped zucchini blossoms and mix well. Add milk as needed to achieve the consistency of a creamy sauce.
5. Butter the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all of the ingredients. Layer lasagna slices on the bottom, followed by a layer of zucchini and then a layer of the ricotta mixture. Repeat the process with another layer of lasagna slices, zucchini and ricotta mixture. Finish the process with a layer of lasagna followed by a generous layer of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over all and top with the reserved zucchini blossoms. Top with a few very thin slices of butter, and another sprinkling of parmesan.
6. Cover with aluminium foil and bake at 200C for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes in order to brown the top. Allow to sit for approximately 30 minutes before serving.
Helpful hint: Fresh, not dry, lasagna is best to use in this recipe. It can be found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. It’s very versatile and a good thing to have on hand in any kitchen. Leftover pieces can be cut into strips, small dices or triangles, cooked quickly in boiling water and topped with your favorite sauce.