We travelled to Italy for a month in late 2010. One of the highlights was to be a full week in Venezia. After a few days with family near Trieste, we caught the train to Venezia and stayed in a little first floor apartment above a tiny Calle (lane) in San Marco. On the first day I went to an inspiring class run by Enrica Rocca who runs a cooking school in her beautiful house in the heart of Venezia. The next day, she met us at the Rialto Market and took us to where she buys her fresh ingredients. The market is hundreds of years old and right on the Grand Canal. So it is a pretty inspiring place, full of history and tales of Venetian glory. I was surrounded by gorgeous colourful produce and was particularly thrilled to find mountains of zucchini flowers. I had never seen so many in one place.
Back in Melbourne, the Victoria Market has zucchini flowers when they are in season though not in mounds like you would find at the Rialto Market! I bought some in late December and they were in little plastic boxes that held 6 perfect flowers. We think of zucchini (or courgettes if you want to call it by its French name) as vegetables but they are fruit in botanical terms. The part that we generally eat is the swollen ovary of the flower. My husband Mark tells me to keep such stories out of the kitchen, but having a medical background, I find this sort of thing really fun!
You can also eat the flower of the zucchini, either the female or the male (just the flower). I prefer the female flower as it does have a tiny zucchino attached. It doesn’t need much cooking as it is a delight on its own. You can make a simple batter and fry it, or else stuff the flowers with cream cheese or ricotta and then batter and fry it. Fried zucchini flowers with a dipping sauce such as aioli (garlic mayonnaise) make a beautiful, quick and impressive entree. You don’t need to cook them much either, they are so delicate.
The season for zucchini flowers is very short. If you see any, snap them up! I bought those pictured on plates at the end of December (they look a bit sad and lonely compared to the mounds at the Rialto Market in Venezia). If you can’t find any at the market and really have your heart set on cooking them, you can substitute other vegetables such as pieces of a large zucchino, strips of capsicum or asparagus spears in the recipe below. It won’t quite be the same but they will still taste amazing with some creamy garlic mayonnaise (aioli).
Zucchini flowers in batter with aioli
As an entree, 3 zucchini flowers per person are perfect. We were a bit greedy when we had them on New Year’s Eve – we scoffed 6 of them each. Before using, make sure you wash the zucchini flowers under running water and then pat them dry. To make the batter for the 12 zucchini flowers, you need 40 g of plain flour and 125 ml water. Put the water in a soup plate and add the flour a little at a time, beating continuously with a fork until all the flour is incorporated and you have the consistency you like. Stop before adding all the flour if you like a thin mixture. Mine was like thickened cream.
Dip the zucchini flowers in the batter until they are coated on all sides. To fry them, put about 2cm of olive oil in a frypan and when it is hot, add the zucchini flowers one at a time, gently turning them over with tongs when golden. Drain on some absorbent paper, sprinkle some sea salt. Dip in aioli (see below) and enjoy!
To make an extra creamy aioli, roast 2 cloves of garlic on a bed of 150g of rock salt at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. Then squeeze the garlic out of its shell when it has cooled down a bit – it will be in the form of a paste. However I used fresh garlic and minced it really finely – this is a lot quicker. It is not quite as smooth as the roasted version, but you can make it in 5 minutes. If you decide not to roast the garlic, use 2 fresh cloves (they don’t need to be giant ones – tiny flavoursome ones are better, like the ones I grew on my terrace a few months back). I made whole-egg mayonnaise, which is very simple and I find it easier than trying to buy one from a shop. Blend a whole fresh egg, the garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of lemon juice (or white wine vinegar) and a teaspoon of salt with a stick blender. Slowly dribble in the olive oil, a drop at a time to start with, then a slow steady stream. When it is creamy, adjust salt to taste. Buon appetito!