When I lived in Cairo, I sometimes found zucchini flowers among the zucchini as they were tossed in a crate ready to be sold in the supermarket. Many of them crushed and wilting, it always paid to take the time and sift through the zucchini, searching for the surviving flowers.
In Dubai, I have seen them at the farmers market, and lucky me: a food blogger friend growing zucchini in her rooftop garden, offered me a bundle. You can probably get them through gourmet stores like Lafayette Gourmet and Markets & Platter if you order directly.
At the local farmers market in the summer in Quebec, I often get them from the same farmer. Once I bought a whole box of gorgeous, sun-kisssed yellow super-fresh (as in picked only a few hours before) zucchini flowers. Still attached to small zucchini, they were carefully packed side by side in a cardboard box. As I paraded my box with yellow beauties around the market, I created quite a buzz with people coming up to me. Mostly wanting to know what they were, and - to my response that these were zucchini flowers that I would stuff, dip in batter and deep-fry - would invariably ask: could they come for dinner.
Ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers are a great vegetarian main course. This time I served them with grilled polenta and a rosemary tomato sauce, but they go well with many different sides.
Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Homemade Ricotta
(recipe is for 4/main course)
The Zucchini Flowers(3 per person for a main course)
Rinse and dry well (but carefully, so as not to damage the flower).
These zucchini flowers were the female flowers (or so I was told: the female flowers grow on the zucchini itself, whereas the male flowers grow directly on the stem). Inside the calyx of the female flower you will find a yellow furry-looking little bulb. This is the pistil, which needs to be removed.
Method 1: slit the flower open length-wise and remove the pistil (remember, that yellow furry-looking little bulb). Fold the flower open (like a book), place a ricotta "ball" in the middle and fold the leaves back over.
Method 2: hold the flower's calyx in your cupped hand and fold the outer petals out over your hand to create a cup to fill. Carefully snip off the pistil. Place a ricotta ball inside the flower and fold the leaves over to close the cup. I used this method for my Quebecois zucchini flowers: its calyx really was a beautiful little cup.
ps. traditionally, ricotta is an Italian whey cheese, made from the whey that is left after curds are strained to make cheese. This leftover whey is brought to a boil again (re-cooked, or ri-cotta) so the proteins can coagulate, strained again and those curds are the basis for the ricotta cheese. For a link to artisan Italian cheeses, including Abruzzo ricotta, click here
(recipe yields about a cup of ricotta)
3 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream*
1/4 cup (white) vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
(*or use 4 cups milk only)
Bring the milk and cream with the salt to a boil, add the vinegar and stir for about a minute. It curdles pretty much immediately. Turn off heat. Don't stir, just leave for about five minutes. Prepare a sieve with a fine-woven/cotton tea towel (cheese cloth is best as it is a fine-woven cloth that allows liquid to seep through yet collect all solid parts). Leave to strain, and occasionally stir to allow the liquid to better seep through. In technical terms: what is left in the cheese cloth is the curd, whereas the liquid in the bowl is the whey.
Herbs and Parmesan
Add a cup freshly grated parmesan, a 1/2 cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley and basil to the ricotta, as well as a small teaspoon grated lemon peel and a pinch of chili flakes. Season to taste with fresh ground black pepper and coarse sea salt.
Shape the herbed ricotta into balls, the size roughly measured according to the base of your zucchini flower (for my zucchini flowers, a diameter of 2-3 cm (about one inch) was a good size). Chill until ready to use.
1 cup ice-cold water
1 cup plain flour
(tip: heat the frying oil as you prepare the batter).
Beat the egg and add the ice-cold water. Mix in the flour carefully (do not over-mix). Use immediately.
Dip the prepared and stuffed zucchini flowers in the batter. Deep-fry in the hot oil until crisp. It takes a few minutes.
After posting this, I tried out zucchini flowers stuffed with (ready-to-use) duck confit, which I shredded and added to mashed white beans with fine chopped parsley and spring onion. Same batter, same process, the zucchini flowers with duck confit were amazing!