Let Them Eat Flowers

We stopped by our friend Heather’s house the other evening for a visit. On the counter were two enormous zucchini.

“Did someone leave those on your porch?” I asked.

“My client gave them to me,” she replied.

How generous of them, I thought to myself.

“They’re too big to eat, right?”

“Well,” I pondered, “you could make a parmagiana kind of thing with them. I’ve got a good recipe for Greek zucchini balls. But those would make about 400.”

Zucchini blossoms

I’m always wary of the food-giving generosity of friends, neighbors, loved ones, strangers and clients. By way of a “gift,” my sister-in-law — a caterer — would sometimes drop off the leftovers from a wedding she had catered at our house. Half-eaten cakes, whittled chunks of softball-sized cheese, large ziploc bags of pasta salad. Generous, no doubt, but then I would begin to feel resentful as the food sat in the fridge uneaten for days and weeks, and then I was eventually the one saddled with guilt for throwing it out.

But back to those zucchini…

I believe in being proactive and heading off botanical catastrophe before it can happen. “Nipping it in the bud,” literally. Sure, you can pick those zucchini while they’re small and tender. But even better, you can clip the flowers and eat those.

Zucchini blossoms can be found in the cuisines of many different cultures. Like all squash a traditional crop of the Americas, they’ll appear floating in soup or tucked into quesadillas in Mexico. Clever Japanese chefs will create objets d’art frying them in a lacy tempura batter. I like Italian preparations the best — the flowers reach a zenith of deliciousness when stuffed with cheese, pan-fried and drizzled with a tomato sauce.

Blossoms, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in proscuitto and ready to cook

Here’s one way I like to do them — a dazzling beginning to your next dinner party. Or, try your own variations. I’ve done them with goat cheese or ricotta inside, I’ve seen them simply crisped up as fritters and served with a mayonnaisey dipping sauce — some chefs even stuff them with crab or lobster. Enjoy!

*   *   *

Stuffed zucchini blossoms with guanciale and heirloom tomato sauce
serves 4 as an appetizer

12 large, firm zucchini blossoms
4 oz. soft mozzarella cheese (the kind that comes in water)
4 oz. grated parmasan
4 slices proscuitto (plus extra to nibble while you’re cooking)
4 bacon-sized slices guanciale (cured pork jowel)
1/2 cup flour
1 egg yolk
4 oz. chilled sparkling water
1/4 cup canola oil
extra virgin olive oil
2 large heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup cream
2 tbsp. red wine

Mix together the mozzarella and parmesan, mashing into a uniform consistency. Carefully open each flower by making a cut or gentle tear down one side. Remove the yellow stamens from inside the flower, and check to make sure there are no straggler ants or other insects. (You can lightly rinse the flowers if you’d like.) Fill each flower with a generous teaspoon of the cheese — if you have any leftover you can distribute it among the flowers. Cut each proscuitto slice lengthwise into three strip. Wrap a strip carefully and tightly around the center of each blossom (see photo above). Place flowers in fridge until ready to cook.

Core the tomatoes and puree in a blender with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil until smooth. Remove to a small saucepan, add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lower heat and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook guanciale slices, turning once or twice, until crisp. Turn off heat and remove guanciale to a paper towel. Reserve oil.

In a large bowl, mix together your egg and sparkling water. Add flour and mix until smooth. Reheat reserved oil over medium-high. Working in batches of 4 to 6, depending on your skillet size, cook the blossoms: Dip each in the batter, let excess drip off, and place in hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate, and continue until all 12 blossoms have been cooked, three to a plate.

Reheat tomato sauce over high heat. Add cream, and cook until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Drizzle a little sauce over each plate of blossoms, and top with a crisp slice of guanciale.

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