Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Fried Zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and herbs

  When I was 19, my father took me with him on a business trip to Florence, Italy.  For four glorious May days he attended meetings while I spent my time wandering and watching, walking and exploring and getting my first taste of la vita bella.  The sun-ripened tomatoes, the creamy gelato, the sing-song beauty of the language and the general atmosphere of good times to be had made me fall hard for Firenze, as so many millions had before me.  On the banks of the river Arno I made a promise to myself then that I would return, and of course I did...   
  On our last evening I joined my father and his colleagues- we were being taken for a special dinner in an undisclosed location.  Just as the sun started its descent in the clear sky, the ten of us boarded a tiny little bus- I had no idea where we might be headed.  We drove over a bridge headed for one of the green hills that surrounded the city and started our ascent.  As we climbed higher I could see the ancient city spreading out below us, the red tiled rooftops and towering cupolas glowing in the late evening sun, rippling and shimmery like a mirage.
  We disembarked in front of a small cottage on the hill and were seated in the garden, under a wooden pergola twined with leafy branches and tiny white tree lights that flickered on as the sky darkened to my favorite shade of deepest blue.  The air was sweet with the scent of grass and flowers, and the stars twinkling above seemed to be winking down at me as the wine was poured and the first antipasti platters came out- fried zucchini blossoms. 
   Being a suburban girl I had little concept that zucchinis grew with flowers, and that this flower was not only edible, but delicious with a delicate zucchini flavor.  Leave it to the Italians…  The petals were a rich orange yellow striped with bright green, and some blessed person had stuffed them with stringy warm cheese and fried them to crisp perfection.  What followed was one of the top five meals of my life, but all I can really remember is the way those blossoms tasted in the Tuscan evening air. 
  On Wednesday I scored a box of beautiful healthy male blossoms with stems (the females grow at the end of the vegetable) and I knew what must be done.  These are great fried crisp on their own, but I stuffed them with ricotta and herbs and coated them in a batter spiced with garam masala.   

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

12-15             zucchini flowers

1 c                   flour
1t                     salt
1 t                    garam masala
1c                    club soda, cold

1 c                   ricotta cheese
1 t                    lemon zest
                        Thyme, basil
                        Salt, pepper

1.  Remove stamens from inside the flower, being careful not to rip the petals.  You can use a pair of tweezers or even long scissors. 

2.  Mix ricotta with zest, herbs and spices- these herbs came from right outside my window!!

3. Using a teaspoon, fill the bottom of each blossom with a little cheese- be sure not to overfill them!  Remember, a little goes a long way here and too much filling will burst in the hot oil.  Leave the filled flowers in the fridge until you are ready to fry.

4. Mix the flour, salt and spices together, then add the cold club soda and stir with a fork to get the lumps out.  The batter should be runny but thick enough to hold to the blossoms. 

5. Heat vegetable oil in a deep pot to 375° F.  Set up a frying station with the batter and blossoms, and a rack or plate lined with paper towels. 

6.  When the oil is hot you can start dipping the blossoms into the batter and frying them.  I gave a little twist at the top of the flower to keep the cheese in.  Fry until the batter is golden all around.  If the cheese starts to leak out into the oil, it will cause a burnt mess, so fish out the busted ones- you can crisp it later in the oven for a minute or two.

  Ahhh, fried stuff with cheese… is there anything better?


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