Zucchini is everywhere in our markets in the summer, but zucchini blossoms are another story. They are awfully hard to find. Forget about supermarkets, a better bet is your local farmers market—and even then you may need some luck. So your best bet is to grow your own zucchini, and then you’ll have an endless supply. You see, the flowers are very delicate and start wilting almost as soon as they’re picked. That makes them impractical for mass marketing, but they are well worth seeking out. Their flavor is really unique. Someone once described them as ‘zucchini perfume’, which gives you an idea—but you really just need to experience them yourself.
Zucchini blossoms can be used in a number of ways, but deep frying is probably the most popular in Italy and, if you ask me, the most delicious. More often than not, they are dipped in a simple flour and water batter like the one we’ve seen for other vegetable fritters, but Angelina would make them in her usual fashion, dredged in flour and dipped in egg flavored with grated cheese and other good things. She fried them plain, but I love to stuff them with mozzarella and anchovies—a classic combination.
- 12 zucchini blossoms
For the stuffing:
- 1 medium mozzarella, cut into short strips
- 12 anchovy fillets
For the egg batter:
- 6 eggs
- 3 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely minced
- Salt and pepper
- Flour for dredging
Take your blossoms and trim off the stems (if they have one) and the spindly little leaves that cling to their base. Clean them gently with a towel and then, one by one, gently open the petals up just enough to allow you to reach in and remove the pistil. Be careful not to damage the delicate petals if you can, which are extremely delicate. (But if the petals rip, don’t despair—see Notes below.)
Take a strip of mozzarella and stuff it into the flower, then an anchovy fillet, then another strip of mozzarella. (Do not overstuff!) Then close the flower up, pressing the petals together gently with your hands around the stuffing.
Now, in a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to come up 2cm/half inch up the sides. While the oil is heating, arrange the stuffed blossoms beside two trays, one with some flour for dredging and the other with the egg batter ingredients, which you will have beaten together lightly.
Proceed as you would with any fried vegetables: Taking each blossom in hand gingerly and, making sure with your fingers that they stay closed, dredge them in the flour and then in the egg batter. As soon as each blossom is battered, slide it careful into the skillet. Shallow-fry the zucchini blossom in the olive oil until lightly brown on each side.
Drain them on paper towels or on a baking rack as they are done.
Serve as soon as all the fried zucchini blossoms are done, while they are still warm.
Fried zucchini blossoms can be eaten on their own as an antipasto or as a delicious snack, as part of a fritto misto, or with other fried vegetables as a vegetable-based main course.
If you are using zucchini blossoms from your garden, be aware that they grown both from the ends of the fruit and at the end of stems. You should use the ones that grow on a stem. The ones that grow at the end of the zucchini themselves can be used in a pinch, but they will not be as flavorful, and they will have a hard end (where you cut off the zucchini) that will be less edible. And, in either case, be careful as you open the flowers—you may find a bee or other insect inside! (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
If you’re lucky enough to find zucchini blossoms on sale, they may be a bit wilted. No worries—they will still be delicious. But they will need some extra care. As they wilt, the delicate petals tend to stick together, making it fussy work to open the blossom for stuffing. Just be patient, all will be well in the end. You may have to resort to slitting open the petal, which is fine—just be sure to close them up well, hold them closed with your fingers as you dredge them and dip them in the batter, and keep them closed until they hit the oil.
While I would venture that mozzarella and anchovy is the most common stuffing, as with other stuffed vegetables, there are variations: ricotta and ham, ricotta and mozzarella, capers instead of or in addition to the anchovies, mortadella and fontina, tuna mousse… the possibilities are endless, but the inclusion of some sort of soft cheese that melts and binds the stuffing together seems to be a constant. And, of course, it is possible to enjoy fried zucchini blossoms without any stuffing at all, the way Angelina used to make them—a practical solution for blossoms that are too wilted to open. They are very tasty on their own.