Whilst growing up at home, I picked up a few recipes, tips and tricks from both my mum and my sister.
And later, in my then boyfriend’s tiny, practically non-existent kitchen, I learnt a bit more, but always cooked safe, reliable meals; you know, the ones that even a little kid couldn’t screw up.
And later still, when that boyfriend became my husband and we got a bigger kitchen and a wall unit full of cookbooks, I learnt even more and started trying new things, cooking new things. I was no longer scared of words like proving, beurre blanc, temper, soufflé, crème anglaise, chiffonnade, gougere…
Have you noticed that some of the scariest culinary terms are French?
Yet even after all this time, when trying new things, I still turn to the first three chefs who taught me how to cook: Jamie Oliver gave me a good foundation in technique; Nigella Lawson showed me that everyday ingredients can be magical; Stephanie Alexander still continues to teach me what flavours go together and how to substitute ingredients.
So when I finally decided to try cooking with zucchini flowers, there was Jamie with a recipe just waiting for me. This was about a year ago now, and even though I have added a lovely zucchini flower pasta dish and a moreish zucchini flower pizza to my repertoire, seeing these elusive flowers out and about again I was reminded of this first attempt to cook with them.
Below is Jamie’s recipe in his own words as published on the Food Network website. He has such a unique voice and turn of phrase that it is a shame to mess with it.
Crispy Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint
- 7 ounces good-quality crumbly ricotta cheese (not supermarket ricotta; best bought from a specialty shop)
- ¼ of a nutmeg finely grated, or a pinch of ground nutmeg
- A small handful freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 lemon, zest finely grated, plus 2 lemons, halved for serving
- A small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 1 to 2 fresh red chiles, halved, seeded and very finely chopped
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ¾ cups self-rising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
- 1 ½ cups decent white wine or sparkling water
- 8 zucchini flowers, with zucchini still attached
- Vegetable oil
- These stuffed zucchini flowers look and taste amazing! Make sure they’re eaten straightaway, while they’re still crisp and hot. If you can’t get hold of any flowers you can still make the recipe using just the zucchini – it will be like an Italian tempura.
- Beat the ricotta in a bowl with the nutmeg, the Parmesan, lemon zest and most of the chopped mint and chiles. Season carefully, with salt and pepper, to taste.
- To make a lovely light batter, put the flour into a mixing bowl with a good pinch of salt. Pour in the white wine and whisk until thick and smooth. At this point the consistency of the batter should be like heavy cream or, if you dip your finger in, it should stick to your finger and nicely coat it. If it’s too thin, add a bit more flour; if it’s too thick, add a little more wine.
- Open the zucchini flowers up gently, keeping them attached to the zucchini, and snip off the pointed stamen inside because these taste bitter. Give the flowers a gentle rinse if you like.
- With a teaspoon, carefully fill each flower with the ricotta mixture. Or, as I prefer to do, spoon the ricotta into the corner of a sandwich bag. Snip 1/2-inch off the corner 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. Then put the flowers aside. (Any leftover ricotta can be smeared on hot crostini as a snack!)
- Now for the deep-frying bit. Get everyone out of the way if you can and make sure there are no kids around. Have tongs or a spider ready for lifting the flowers out of the oil, and a plate with a double layer of paper towels on it for draining. Pour the oil into a deep fat fryer or large deep saucepan so it’s about 4 inches deep. Heat it up to 350 degrees F or, if using a saucepan, put in your piece of potato. As soon as the potato turns golden, floats to the surface and starts to sizzle, the oil is just about the right temperature. Remove the potato from the pan.
- One by one, dip the zucchini with their ricotta-stuffed flowers into the batter, making sure they’re completely covered, and gently let any excess drip off. Carefully release them, away from you, into the hot oil. Quickly batter another 1 or 2 flowers and any small zucchini (or parsley) leaves if you have any – but don’t crowd the pan too much otherwise they’ll stick together. Fry until golden and crisp all over, then lift them out of the oil and drain on the paper towels. Remove to a plate or board and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and the remaining chile and mint. Serve with half a lemon to squeeze over. Bloody delicious. Eat them quick!
Recipe by Jamie Oliver as found on the Food Network website.