Sunday, July 27, 2008

Recipes for Crispy Zucchini Flowers with Cheesy Potato-Basil Stuffing & Radish Horta (Κολοκυθοανθοί Γεμιστοί με Τύρι, Πατάτες, και Βασιλικός & Χόρτα)

Stuffed Zucchini FlowersZucchini flowers are a seasonal treat that appear only briefly. Every year, I look forward to their arrival.

The flowers are fragile so must be used soon after picking. As a result, the only zucchini flowers available in Alaska are sold at farmer’s markets or grown in home gardens.

I was thrilled to arrive at the farmer’s market this morning and find a profusion of zucchini flowers. I immediately grabbed a bag and started picking out perfect specimens.

While I was making my selection, three different people asked me how to use the flowers. “Fry them in tempura batter, stuff them and fry them, cook them like stuffed grape leaves, cut them up and put in frittatas or omelets…,” I drifted off as the questioners’ eyes glazed over.

Besides the zucchini flowers, I also bought fresh basil. Waiting in line to pay, I imagined a stuffing for the flowers flavored with basil and cheese. The flavor of this stuffing was crystal clear in my imagination; I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The result was worthy of the year’s first zucchini flowers. The beer batter was light and very crispy, and contrasted wonderfully with the creamy potato-based stuffing. Basil contributed its herby essence, while the cheese tied all the flavors together.

To round out the meal, I made Horta, a traditional Greek dish of boiled greens dressed with olive oil and lemon. Any variety of edible greens may be cooked as Horta. Tonight I used fresh radish leaves, a tasty green that too often ends up in the garbage.

Part of the reason radish greens aren’t often eaten may be their fuzzy surface. I suspect a more important reason is the leaves of supermarket radishes are usually so beat up they’re no longer worth eating.

Garden fresh radish greens are definitely worth eating. When they’re tiny, and before they get too fuzzy, radish greens make a spicy addition to fresh salads. Once they get older, I prefer cooking the greens to improve their texture and mouth feel.

For more information about cooking with zucchini flowers, my friend Maria of
Organically Cooked in Hania, Crete, uses them often: baked in the oven, stuffed and cooked with grape leaves, stuffed and cooked with stuffed tomatoes and peppers, and added to a green onion pie.

Crispy Stuffed Zucchini FlowersCrispy Zucchini Flowers with Cheesy Potato-Basil Stuffing (Κολοκυθοανθοί Γεμιστοί με Τύρι, Πατάτες, και Βασιλικός)
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course
Bringing frying oil to the correct temperature helps protects against greasy food. To keep the oil at temperature, don’t fry more than four stuffed flowers at a time.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups beer

3/4 pound potatoes (1 large)
1/2 cup freshly grated kasseri or fontina cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated kefalotyri or parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk or half-and-half
1/4 cup basil
chiffonade (cut in thin shreds)
Freshly ground black pepper

8 large zucchini flowers
Oil for frying (I use canola oil)

Make the Batter: Mix the batter ingredients until they are smooth. Refrigerate while you make the stuffing and fill the zucchini flowers.

Make the Stuffing: Wash the potatoes and boil in salted water until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Drain well. Mash the potatoes with a fork and add the remaining stuffing ingredients. Mash again until the stuffing is creamy and the ingredients well-mixed.

Prepare the Zucchini Flowers: Gently brush any dirt off the flowers; don’t get them wet or they’ll be impossible to handle. Stand one zucchini flower up in a small glass, jar, or vase. Open the zucchini flowers and remove any garden hitchhikers inside. Leave the stem attached; it makes dipping the stuffed flowers in batter and adding them to the hot oil easier. I used to remove the stamens, as many people do, but now I leave them in and think they add good flavor.

How to Stuff Zucchini FlowersStuff the Zucchini Flowers: Spread the flower opening so it’s wide enough to accept the large tip of a pastry bag or the cut-off corner of a sturdy plastic bag. Fill the bag with stuffing mix and pipe it into the zucchini flower. Fold three of the five flower points over the stuffing, leaving the remaining two points loose. Repeat with the remaining zucchini flowers. The flowers can be made several hours ahead to this point and refrigerated until ready to cook.

Fry the Stuffed Flowers: Heat 3/4” of oil in a Dutch oven until it is 350°F – 360°F. Dip the stuffed zucchini flowers in batter and fry until the flowers are nicely browned on both sides, turning them halfway through. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Radish HortaRadish Horta (Χόρτα)
Serves 1
Multiply the recipe as many times as you like; the point is greens from one bunch of radishes only serve one person. Any edible green may be cooked and served this way. The greens will taste fresher if you add lemon juice at the last minute.

Greens from one bunch of radishes
Olive Oil
Fresh lemon juice

Wash the greens very carefully, discarding any damaged leaves or stems. Cook the greens in boiling salted water for 3 – 5 minutes, or until they are just tender. The cooking time varies depending on the age of the greens, so don’t overcook.

Drain well. While the greens are hot, dress them with extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste; this helps merge the flavors of greens and olive oil. Just before serving, drizzle fresh lemon juice over the greens and toss well. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Peter G said...

Definitely a treat worth waiting for Laurie! And the stuffing is very complimentary...I can only imagine the basil aroma! I can't seem to get horta so I just boil silverbeet and dress them with "ladi & lemoni"...this is beautiful!


wow, Laurie, what a timely mention - I have just this minute posted a photo of your red pepper tart on my lasted entry!
interesting mention about radish greens - the fuzziness is exaclty why i dont use them myself, but now that i;ve decided to give nettles a go this winter, they might also get mixed into my winter hortopites...

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Fried zucchini blossoms are a very Rhode Island thing, because we have such a large Italian population here. The traditional way to prepare them is to stuff them with a filling of cheese, herbs and bread crumbs, and then deep fry. Oh boy, they are good!

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Yes! Zucchini flowers are a big hit around here too, in fact, I am going to make some today! This looks and reads like an interesting recipe, we usually stuff ours with a rice mix and then bake them, though I have fried zucchini flowers as well. I think the first place I ever had them fried was on Kos, where I worked for a 6 month summer period.

Kalyn said...

Yum! This is something I always wanted to try.

Laurie Constantino said...

Peter, silverbeet (swiss chard in the US) makes wonderful horta - you're not "settling" at all!

Maria, although I just used radishes last night, I think horta salata is always best with a mixture of greens rather than just one - and radishes are a good addition to the mix. Checked out your picture - the pepper tart looks yummy.

Lydia, cheese goes so well with zucchini flowers - glad to hear what is traditional in your neck of the woods.

Sam, can't wait to read about your zucchini flowers. "6 month summer" - quite a phrase for an Alaskan to read! I'd love to go to Kos - do you have family there?

Kalyn - zucchini flowers are one of my big motivations for growing zucchini every year. This year we're having such a cold summer that our zucchini isn't even close to blooming. Gardeners must be patient!

Peter M said...

Now isn't this just the perfect excuse to open a bottle of wine. I like the potato addition in the filling...a good binder.

As for horta...all we can eat in Greece next month!

Valentina said...

I wait eagerly for spring so that i can have zucchini flowers. i do have to go all the way into London for them as i cannot find them around where i live.

Bellini Valli said...

I love stuffed zucchini flowers. Everywhere I went in Greece they were on the menu but they were always out. Finally I had them and prepared them myself on Kea. I have asked several vendors at our farmers market but no one seems to bring them in...I need some more persuasion:D

bee said...

that is such a gorgeous, happy dish!!!

Bijoux said...

Oh lordy, zucchini flowers!! I want some right now at 11:30 pm, who cares if I can't get to sleep afterwards. I've had zucchini flowers prepared in many ways...stuffed with a rice mixture and baked in tomato sauce, battered and deep fried...but never prepared this way before, Laurie. I am curious and tempted to try this as soon as possible. Since my mother is the one that prepares the zucchini flowers, I always anticipate a plate of them when I visit home. But my mother is on the island at the moment, which means that I will have to drop by the house and explored her crazy jungle garden and pick those zucchini flowers myself. I was just there earlier today picking raspberries and I completely forget to see if the flowers were read for picking. Oh, I'm so excited to try my hand at this :)

manju said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
manju said...

We're fans of radish greens, too, just the way you prepared them here! Haven't seen radishes with greens since we moved here, though. But I love the stuffing you used for the blossoms, esp. the addition of potatoes. They still look so light and crispy, tho'. Yum!!

Shayne said...

I love zucchini flowers and was so excited when i found them at the farm market on Saturday. I picked the box of blossoms and the farm girl dumped them in a paperbag for me. when I got home I found that they had bad blossoms with a few fresh ones on top of the little boxes they had them in. I was so mad and picked out the the few nice ones and carfully pulled out the pollen stem then I ran out to the garden and I was in luck I had 6 of my own. in the end I had a nice little mess but for that price and quality I will never buy from that stand again and may even say something if I even go back to that market.

On a more positive side I love what you did for the stuffing and when I get some more of my own blossoms I will have to try it.

Lo said...

Oh, how I love a good squash blossom. And here, you've given me a host of ideas.

I must admit, I always have trouble being delicate enough when I stuff the flowers... your work is impeccable!

swirlingnotions said...

Wowza, does this look good! If I showed this post to my husband, we'd be having it for dinner every single night this week ;-).

Laurie Constantino said...

Peter M - yes, a nice glass of wine would finish off the meal nicely.

Valentina - I'm surprised there aren't still zucchinis blooming in the UK, but I guess next spring will have to do.

Val, we used to have that problem, but when vendors at the farmer's market realized they could get people to pay 75 cents each for them, they finally were persuaded.

Bee, thank you!

Bijoux, that is the problem with reading food blogs late at night - it makes you want to eat! These are really easy to make, so I don't think you'll have a problem doing it on your own. When does your mom get home from the island?

Manju, glad I'm not the only one who eats my radish greens. If you can't find them at the markets, maybe it's time to grow your own!

Shayne, I only buy zucchini flowers if I can pick them out myself for exactly the reason you describe. They just are too fragile to trust other people packing them. You should definitely say something.

Lo, the key to stuffing them, in my opinion, is piping in the filling rather than trying to do it with a spoon.

Lia, fried food with a potato stuffing? Most men I know are just like your husband!

Bijoux said...

Laurie: My mother leaves early September from the island for Athens. At least, that is what she told me. Her ticket might be subject to change however, depending on her mood and desire to stay longer :)

Lulu Barbarian said...

Great combo - I love fried stuff with horta. I'm glad to hear I don't have to take out the stamens any more!