Fiori di zucca alla ligure (Ligurian-Style Zucchini Blossoms)

Frankantipasti, contorno, Liguria37 Comments

Fiori di zucca alla ligure (Ligurian Style Zucchini Blossoms)

Lucky me! I found some zucchini blossoms at our local market this week, for the first time in at least two years. Why they waited until the very end of the summer to start selling them, I can’t imagine. But I’m not one to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. I absolutely adore zucchini blossoms, so this was a rare treat!

I usually make zucchini blossoms the way Angelina used to, filled with mozzarella and anchovy, then battered and fried in olive oil. But this week I felt like something different.

From Liguria comes this recipe for zucchini blossoms filled with a savory mixture of potato and other vegetables, usually either green beans or zucchini or a mixture of both, scented with garlic, basil and marjoram. The filled blossoms are then drizzled with olive oil and baked until golden brown, rather lighter than the usual deep fry but just as delicious.

Although sometimes categorized as a contorno or side dish, I think the flavors here are too complex for that. I’d serve these zucchini blossoms as an antipasto or light main course.

Ingredients

  • About 12 zucchini blossoms
  • Olive oil

For the filling:

  • 250g (8 oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 250g (8 oz) green beans, trimmed, or zucchini, trimmed and cut into lengths, or a mixture of both
  • 30g (1 oz) grated Parmesan cheese, or more if needed
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 egg
  • A handful of basil leaves, finely minced
  • A sprig of marjoram, finely minced
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Boil, or better steam, the potatoes and green beans for about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini and continue until all the vegetables are fully tender. Drain.

Pass the vegetables through a food mill, using the medium dish. Mix well and place the resulting purée in a non-stick skillet over gentle heat, stirring constantly, until any excess liquid has evaporated. You’ll know it’s done when the purée thickens so it comes away easily from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the purée to a mixing bowl and let it cool completely.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the bowl and mix until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. The purée should be rather thick. If need be, mix in some more grated Parmesan to tighten it up. Taste and adjust for seasoning; the purée should be quite savory.

Now for the slightly tricky part: Open each zucchini blossom and gingerly remove the pistil inside, taking care not to bruise the petals or opening them too much.

Fill the center of each zucchini blossom with some of the purée. This is best done with a pastry bag if you have one. If you don’t, you can improvise by snipping off one corner of a ZipLock or other plastic bag. (In a pinch, you can spoon the filling into the blossom, but it’s rather tedious and delicate work.) Fill them well, but leave some room at the tip.

As you fill each blossom, twist the end to close it up, then place them in a pre-oiled baking dish. Drizzle everything with olive oil.

Bake in a hot (200C/400F) oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the zucchini blossoms are heated through and have browned on top.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fiori di zucca alla ligure (Ligurian Style Zucchini Blossoms)

Notes on Ligurian Style Zucchini Blossoms

Here in the US, zucchini blossoms can be hard to find. Mostly you’ll find them at farmer’s markets and, even there, there’s no guarantee. As I said, it had been two years since I had last spotted them in my local market. Still they’re a treat worth keeping an eye out for. If you haven’t had zucchini blossoms, their taste is difficult to describe, delicate yet very distinctive—and, oddly enough, not all that much like zucchini.

And speaking of their delicacy, zucchini blossoms are quite perishable. (One reason, I suppose, they are so seldom marketed.) You should cook them ideally the same day you buy them, or at most the day after. As they wilt, the petals droop and begin to stick together, making them easy to bruise and difficult to stuff. I’d save any blossoms that have lost their freshness for other dishes. (They make a nice pasta sauce, for example, or a topping for pizza.)

Zucchini blossoms, even when absolutely fresh, do need gentle handling. They are easily bruised if you “manhandle” them and getting at the pistil inside them can be tricky business. The petals tend to separate as well, although in this dish in particular, that’s not the end of the world. If it happens, just gather them around the filling and twist them closed.

Variations

The filling varies quite a bit from recipe to recipe. As mentioned, besides the potato, some recipes call for green beans only, other for zucchini and yet others for both. The ratio of potato to other veg also varies. In some recipes, the filling is mostly potato, in others, you add just one potato to a mostly green bean/zucchini purée, I suppose as a kind of binder. The measurements given here, with equal parts potato vs. green beans/zucchini, fall somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Vegetables steamed and ready for the food mill.

The flavorings also vary a bit. Basil and marjoram—archetypical herbs of the Ligurian Riviera—are almost always part of the mix, but in some recipes get supplemented or replaced by parsley or mint.

Technique can vary slightly as well. For instance, one version has you sauté the garlic clove in olive oil before adding the potato and veg purée to cook off its excess liquid. In others, only the potatoes are steamed and puréed, while the other veg is cut into small cubes and sautéed before being added to the mix, to produce a chunky filling. And in a few recipes, the blossoms are floured and fried rather than baked.

Making ahead and leftovers

You can make your zucchini blossoms ahead of time, and serve them at room temperature or reheated gently in the oven. You can also make the filling mixture ahead and refrigerate it until you need it.

If you have any leftover filling, there’s no need to throw it out. You can stuff other vegetables this way. My trusty copy of Le ricette regionali italiane (Solares, ed. 1995) has a recipe for verdure ripiene di patate calling for a mixture just like this one (less the green vegetables but why not use them anyway?) as a filling for peppers, zucchini, red onions, eggplant and tomatoes—as well as zucchini blossoms and, curiously, large basil leaves. The zucchini, onions and eggplant are parboiled before filling, the other veg filled raw, then baked in the oven until tender and well-browned.

Fiori di zucca alla ligure (Ligurian-Style Zucchini Blossoms)

Cook Time1 hr
Course: Antipasto
Cuisine: Liguria
Keyword: vegetable, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 12 zucchini blossoms
  • Olive oil

For the filling:

  • 250 g (8 oz) potatoes peeled and cut into wedges
  • 250 g (8 oz) green beans, trimmed, or zucchini, trimmed and cut into lengths, or a mixture of both
  • 30g= g (1 oz) grated Parmesan cheese or more if needed
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1 medium egg
  • A handful of basil leaves, finely minced
  • A sprig of marjoram, finely minced
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Boil, or better steam, the potatoes and green beans for about 5 minutes, then add the zucchini and continue until all the vegetables are fully tender. Drain.
  • Pass the vegetables through a food mill, using the medium dish. Mix well and place the resulting purée in a non-stick skillet over gentle heat, stirring constantly, until any excess liquid has evaporated. You'll know it's done when the purée thickens so it comes away easily from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the purée to a mixing bowl and let it cool completely.
  • Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the bowl and mix until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. The purée should be rather thick. If need be, mix in some more grated Parmesan to tighten it up. Taste and adjust for seasoning; the purée should be quite savory.
  • Now for the slightly tricky part: Open each zucchini blossom and gingerly remove the pistil inside, taking care not to bruise the petals or opening them too much.
  • Fill the center of each zucchini blossom with some of the purée. This is best done with a pastry bag if you have one. If you don't, you can improvise by snipping off one corner of a ZipLock or other plastic bag. (In a pinch, you can spoon the filling into the blossom, but it's rather tedious and delicate work.) Fill them well, but leave some room at the tip.
  • As you fill each blossom, twist the end to close it up, then place them in a pre-oiled baking dish. Drizzle everything with olive oil.
  • Bake in a hot (200C/400F) oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the zucchini blossoms are heated through and have browned on top.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

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37 Comments on “Fiori di zucca alla ligure (Ligurian-Style Zucchini Blossoms)”

  1. I actually started growing them on my balcony, when I became so frustrated that zucchini flowers were rarely available at shops and supermarkets. It is really easy, just plant the zucchini plant in a large flowerpot or growbag and you can harvest lots and lots of flowers or zucchini (if you leave them to grow) in one summer! I recently got hold of a packet of 8 at an Italian supermarket and tried your recipe, Frank, which was delicious! I usually just fry the flowers in a light batter, made only of flour, a pinch of salt and ice-cold water. My Japanese neighbour taught me to make this Tempura batter, but she uses ice-cubes instead of cold water.

  2. Frank, I love the purred veggie stuffing idea. We’ll not see zucchini blossoms until next season, but when I do I’ll be trying this. In the meantime, I’m going to try the stuffing in sweet paprika which we can get year-round. Perhaps I’ll also try it in some körsbärstomater which are a small sweet tomato we get from Spain this time of the year. Thanks for sharing and I hope you found more blossoms.

    1. After writing this post, I had some leftover stuffing and it was fabulous with peppers. And surely with tomatoes, too. Thanks for your comment, Ron!

  3. I have always hesitated making the traditional cheese stuffed deep-fried version but I’m excited and happy to see a baked alternative! I see zucchini blossoms in traditional grocery stores here in Toronto; we have the largest Italian population outside of Rome, or at least we did. Our little Italy is awesome.

  4. That’s a really involved recipe for zucchini flowers! All we’ve ever done is dip them in a flour batter and fry them, and occasionally fill with mozzarella, but nothing fancy at all. I love the Ligurian recipe, especially since they are baked! Looks like a beautiful starter for a lovely summer meal.

  5. I was totally unfamiliar with this preparation Frank, thank you for bringing it to your reader’s attention. A nice change of pace from the traditional stuffings.

  6. What a gold mine to find those zucchini blossoms! To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the blossoms for sale around here. (Probably for the perishable reason that you mention.) I’ve been tempted to pluck the blossoms off of our zucchini in the yard, but I’ve never done it. Now I want to go on a blossom hunt! What a fun and unique way to stuff these.

  7. Frank I absolutely adore this recipe! In fact I make zucchini flower more often the Ligurian way adding a bit of prosciutto to the potato. I have made it for a cooking class group of 20 people and it was a huge success!

  8. What an unusual way to prepare zucchini flowers! My mother always prepared them simply by egg and then flour and frying in olive oil. With a sprinkle of salt, these are delicious! The only I get them, is to grow them myself. I’d love to try your recipe next time I have some. Thanks for sharing!

    1. And thanks for your comment, Marcellina! Your usual way is mine, too, but this method makes for a pleasant change. 🙂

  9. Thank God zucchini blossoms in season are pretty easy to access in Australia if we do not grow our own. I have never prepared them your way and am delighted to get your recipe ! Both for the potato filling and the oven method of cooking . . . will be able to be made soonest . . .I am also fond of stuffing zucchini Middle Eastern style, usually with a spicy couscous mixture but may be able to titillate our tastebuds using your potato one . . . great . . .

  10. Interesting alternative to the way we always made them. I love your blog and all the deeper understanding I get from it. I never saw the flowers before they came to the table, and my mother passed before I ever thought to ask, but at what stage do you take the flowers from the plant? I remember her telling a story about how sometimes when her mother fried them they would burst open into the beautiful flower. They must have had no filling. That made me think that they should be closed when picked, but my mom filled them with ricotta and a piece of mozzarella, so some would have been opened.

    I grow my own, and don’t know the best picking time. Any thoughts?

    1. You’re lucky to be able to grow your own! I used to, back in my days in Rome, and it was a joy to get a steady supply of both zucchini and the blossoms.

      I’ve head that it’s best to pick them in the early morning, as Susie mentioned below. Not really sure why that might be, but I imagine they’re at their freshest in the cool of the early morning. You do want to pick them before they open, if possible, just because they get a bit hairy and harder to handle as they develop—but they’re still perfectly edible. And as you may know, you should pick the “male” plants, i.e. the ones growing on thin stems rather the “females”which grow on the beginnings of what will become an actual zucchini.

  11. I did not know this one and it sounds excellent… I might try now that I go to Italy – in London, courgette flowers are now available, at Bulgari’s price of course

    1. I can imagine the prices! Although actually when I did find them here, rare as they are, the price wasn’t terribly high. Not much demand for them, I guess. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. Not sure if people don’t know them because they’re hardly ever available, or they’re not available because people don’t know about/ask for them…

  12. I haven’t seen zucchini blossoms in our local farmers market for a long time! I think the growers of them just sell directly to restaurants — I often see them as a specials there. Anyway, very nice recipe. I’ll have to remember this for the next time I spot those white whale blossoms!

  13. My mother went through her chinese cooking phase after we moved to Seattle, and it seemed to go on forever. My breaking point was when she fried Tiger lillies. I still can’t look at tiger lillies, and i leave my zucchini blossoms alone…. i know that probably breaks your heart. sorry.

    1. And I had a friend who grew to hate cabbage, thanks to the cooks of his English boarding school… Literally the only ingredient I dislike are beets, and I can’t blame my mom for that. She dislikes them, too, so we never had them at home.

      1. I think you have to teach yourself to appreciate mushrooms and beets. They’re so earthy. Of course, I wanted to learn to appreciate bourbon and whiskey, and that didn’t work…

  14. You are indeed lucky, Frank! I have been looking for zucchini blossoms all summer long and haven’t seen one! Like you, I love them with mozzarella and anchovies. I’ve not heard of this Ligurian style, which sounds amazing. Who knows? Maybe I will find some this weekend

    1. david what Frank has here is the typical mix for Ligurian polpettone: Hazan has it and I seem to remember also Frank has it here on Angelina. Ligurian food is excellent: delicate and mainly vegetarian. I think Colman Anndrews has a book as well as Plotkin…with this same stuffing (or even just mashed potatoes with plenty of cheese and herbs, marjoram first of all, u can stuff any sort of vegetables)(and u can add some pesto to the mashed potatoes for extra flavour)

  15. Oh Frank what a lovely recipe! I grow my own and our preferred way of eating them is to dip them into a light batter then fry in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and munch the crispy morsels with an Aperol spritz! I pick them in the morning and keep them in a dish of cold water in the fridge. I do have a question, can you freeze them?

    1. I haven’t tried tbh but I don’t think so. They’re so terribly delicate. I’m afraid you just have to enjoy them while they’re in season, then wait until next year…

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