I Fiori di Zucca
Yesterday, as I passed the kitchen, I thought for just a second that someone was cooking Indian food. There was a smell of curry that made my stomach growl for something it loves and of which it has been deprived too long. Of course, it wasn't a rich Indian gravy that she was cooking. That intoxicating smell was that of Fiori di Zucca, or squash flowers**. I have eaten them battered and fried many times, but only sauteed (I use the term "sauteed" loosely, as they are thrown in the pan with a healthy cup of extra virgin olive oil) do they exude their intoxicating fragrance.
The flavor was similar to the smell and it was the closest this girl's gonna get to an Indian kitchen here in Naples.
In many restaurants, you can find them stuffed with ricotta, or various other things, but I prefer to consume them uninterrupted by other flavors. The flowers are delicate, and in my opinion, never hold up well to a heavy filling. Why guild the lily? These 2 preparations will help you understand why simplicity is is the Italian Way.
Here they are, fried, and almost fried.
In any case, the cleaning is the same. If there is still a stem attached, trim it to about and inch. As you trim them, put them into a large pot filled with cold water and let them soak for about 10 minutes. Drain out the water, and shake them lightly one by one to dislodge the water inside the flowers. Set them aside to dry out (15 minutes should be enough, just as long as they're not full of water!)
I did a little asking around about a typical batter. What most people use is pastetta (multi-purpose yeast batter). I had no luck getting a recipe, but here are the steps. Just take a little water (I would say about a cup), one egg, and a little more than half of a piece of fresh yeast, and a little salt. Let the yeast dissolve in the water and add flour, little by little until it's right. Let it rest for a few minutes. The right consistency is like pancake batter. I tasted the end result of this one and it was delicious--crispy on the outside and a little fluffy underneath. It was perfectly chewy and maintained the integrity of the flower.
For those of you who simply must have a recipe, here's one from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. (Great book, by the way. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Italian cooking.) I haven't made this one, and 2 eggs seem like a lot, but her recipes are always good. Fidati!
*1 1/4 t of dry active yeast dissolved in 1 cup of lukewarm water
*1 cup flour
Beat eggs in a bowl and add dissolved yeast and water and add large pinch of salt. Add flour while shaking it through a strainer and beating the mixture steadily with a fork.
Whichever version you choose, once the batter is done, add the flowers (put enough in the bowl with the batter so there's room to stir) to the batter and mix them gently around to coat. You can do them one at a time, but it's much more efficient this way.
Slip them, one by one, into oil heated to med-high (the oil should come up a little more than halfway to the flowers). Once they are browned on one side, turn them.
You may have to do this in more than one batch. The pastetta is enough for about 30 flowers. Once they're cooked, let them drain on a paper towel. Try one right away, preferably with a good glass of prosecco, please.
*30-ish squash blossoms
enough extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, then a splash more
*2 cloves of garlic cut into large chunks (Cut them the size of the tip of your pinkie. If you chop them smaller, they'll burn)
Heat the oil with the garlic to med until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Turn up the heat to med high and add the cleaned flowers (They may crowd at first, but they'll wilt considerably.) Sautee them until they are wilted and tender. Add salt and a little peperoncino.
That's it. You will notice that curry smell and flavor and you'll thank me for the recipe.
By the way, today is my mom's birthday and I know she would love to try these! I'll have some with a glass of wine for you, Mom. Happy Birthday and I miss you, and I won't ever talk about mudslides again :)
Some of you who are not familiar with eating these flowers may ask, "Tracie, you eat the whole flower?" Yep. It's all edible, completely delicious, and let's you know that summer is just around the corner.
**These should be easy to find in the larger cities in America. They should be yellow and orange and have a firm shape. If they have too many brown spots, they must be rejected and never see the inside of your kitchen. If you can't find 'em fresh, you'll just have to come to Italy.