Spring and summer are times when gardens are plentiful. For many, traditional summer ortos, or gardens, include a mixture of several vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers and squash. One vegetable in particular, zucchini, a summer squash, is a favorite in Italian culture.
Zucchini is used in several Italian dishes, but not just the vegetable itself. The yellow star-shaped flowers that grow on the zucchini plant are also eaten and are considered one of Italy’s favorite foods. Stuffed zucchini flowers (also known as fiori di zucca) are a traditional Italian dish made by frying or baking zucchini flowers.
Zucchini blossoms are the fragile precursor to the fruit on a zucchini plant. So, once you pick the flower, you sacrifice a mature zucchini, which may be why the flowers are not very prevalent in the United States. They are extremely fragile and don’t keep for long, so if you can’t find them at your local grocer or farmer’s market, try to grow your own!
Traditional Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
In southern Italy, the flowers are usually cleaned and fried as is, but in other parts of the country, including Tuscany, the flowers are stuffed with different fillings, battered and then fried. The flowers can be stuffed with almost anything, including fresh mozzarella and basil, ricotta and herbs, anchovies or even a slice of prosciutto.
The batters used to fry the flowers also differ from region to region. Some recipes call for eggs, which help thicken the batter. Others skip the eggs, believing that they will create too heavy of a batter for the delicate zucchini flower petals.
Perhaps the most important trick is the water. Using chilled seltzer rather than regular tap water completely changes the way the flower fries. When the blossom is added to the oil, rather than the batter clinging to the flower, it forms a crisp, paper-thin shell around it. And when it comes out of the oil, it stays crisp longer. If you don’t have seltzer, iced tap water is a good alternative.
If you’re looking for a non-fried dish, stuffed zucchini flowers can also be baked or oven roasted. There are even recipes online for zucchini flower risotto!
Preparing the Flowers
Zucchini flowers aren’t 100 percent ready-to-eat directly off the vine and do require some preparation before they’re ready to be fried and enjoyed. If you’re growing your own zucchini, the first step is to identify which flowers can be picked and cooked immediately or if you need to wait before picking.
Male zucchini flowers will not grow into a zucchini plant, and therefore can be picked and prepared at your leisure. But, be careful not to harvest all of the male flowers because each plant needs the males to pollinate the females. Female flowers produce zucchinis, so wait to pick those until you have a vegetable about 2-5 inches long. You can learn how to identify your zucchini flowers here.
Our mom helping prepare fiori di zucca, her favorite dish, during our agritourismo trip in Italy!
Once you’ve got your flowers in hand, you’re ready to start preparing your stuffed zucchini flowers. Start by removing the stems (you can also leave a small portion to hold onto when dipping into the batter or eating). You can also store fresh flowers for up to three days in the refrigerator by wrapping them in a wet paper towel.
Next, remove the stamen and any soil from the center of the flower, look for any insects, then wipe clean with a damp paper towel. Once the flowers are cleaned, you can prepare your filling, stuff the flowers and dip them into your batter. Then the flowers are ready to be baked, fried or added into the dish of your choice and enjoyed however you please!