Baja Cooking on the Edge
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BAJA Cooking on the Edge

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Deb's Writings

ZucchiniZucchini Flowers

In the vegetable world, size matters.

The smaller and more delicate the vegetable, the more desirable it is, even though summer is the time when giant squash bloat up in back yards across the land in a misguided effort to show that bigger is better. But all summer squash are at their best when young and tender, barely out of the blossom. In fact many people think zucchini taste best before they even really become zucchini, while still in flower form.

Zucchini are alternately scorned and praised for their ability to grow to enormous size. The time to pounce on your zucchini plant is before it assumes sci-fi monster proportions, while the plant is still decked out with its flowers and the first tiny baby squashes have appeared. Manage your zucchini crop properly, and it becomes a long-yielding vine of pure delight, first offering up tender-crisp blossoms and then a hefty crop of delicious squash, picked young and tender.

In the heart of a zucchini flower the petals are sunshine yellow, crisp and deeply veined. Female flowers have a waxy green pistil. Male flowers sport golden-dusted pollen on dancing ovate stamens and grow on long stems, ideal for dipping and frying; they should be the first to be sacrificed to the pan. Search the vines daily for the miniature squash still bedecked with the female flower.

Zucchini (cucurbitaceae) are simple, user-friendly plants: easy to grow, unassuming, often volunteering year after year in unlikely corners of the garden. Given room to spread, decent soil and plenty of sunshine, a healthy plant will bloom prolifically, sprouting dozens of large flowers. Left unchecked, the plant will self-pollinate and begin to grow cute little squashes. Turn your back, (or go away on vacation) and they will grow with amazing speed into gnarled, hard-husked zeppelins. Amusing, but inedible-fit only to leave on the neighbor’s porch after dark.

About Zucchini Flowers

Zucchini flowers make their annual appearance starting in mid-May, and are readily available through late summer. They should be used as soon after picking as possible.

For stuffing, pick the flowers in the cool of morning. If you’re buying them, the flowers should be perky and fresh as a bouquet, not limp or tired.If the stems fall off easily, the flowers are past their prime; fine for sautéing, but not for stuffing. Discard any that are slimy.

Do not wash the flowers until you are ready to use them. If you must store them for a day or two, layer with dampened paper towels in a wide, flat storage container. Top with a last layer of paper towels and lay a clean kitchen towel over the top, and refrigerate. Do not wrap tightly in plastic wrap or plastic bags; the flowers have to breathe. If the flowers get too wet or cold, they will turn into a slimy mess.


If the flowers are closed, gently open one side with the tip of a sharp knife.

Remove the stamens and pistil with your fingers or a knife.

Fill a bowl with heavily salted cold water (about ½ cup kosher salt to a half gallon of water.) Gently swish the opened flowers in the salted water and shake off excess water. Carefully examine the flower, inside and out, for hitch-hiking insects. Drain on towels, lightly covered with more towels to prevent wilting. Resist the urge to spin them dry. Proceed with your recipe.

Zucchini Flowers ‘Fritti”

Italians love zucchini blossoms and use them in risottos, pastas, stuffing– or simply dipped in this simple batter and shallow-fried.

Vegetable oil for frying
Zucchini flowers
All-purpose flour
Kosher salt

Wash and pat dry the zucchini flowers. Pour a quarter-inch of oil into a heavy sauté pan and turn on medium heat. Use a whisk to combine the flour with cold water until it is as thick as heavy cream. Dip the flowers into the batter and let all the excess drip back into the bowl. Fry the fritters until crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels a moment, sprinkle with salt and eat immediately.

Sauteed Baby Zucchini With Their Flowers

Make this with whole tiny, baby zucchinis, with the flowers still attached. It is the very essence of early summer, at once earthy and delicate. Use best quality olive oil. Serves 4.

¼ cup good olive oil
20 whole baby green zucchini with flowers still attached, cleaned
4 sprigs of dill, chives, parsley or a mixture, chopped
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Prepare the baby zucchini. In a sauté pan just large enough to hold the zucchinis without crowding, heat the oil over medium high heat – do not allow to smoke.

Add the zucchinis and cook over medium-fast heat, shaking the pan frequently, for two to three minutes (do not stir- stirring will break off the flowers) or until the zucchinis are barely tender when poked with a sharp knife.

Carefully remove to a serving dish, along with the oil. Sprinkle generously with the salt, a few grinds of pepper and a scattering of the herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mozzarella-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers With Warm Tomato Sauce

This pretty much defines summertime hedonism: delicate zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with gooey, stringy melted cheese and served with a simple sauce of ripe tomatoes. Make the Warm Tomato Sauce first and have it ready as you stuff, dip and fry the zucchini blossoms, because you need to eat these as fast as they’re made. Serves 4.

20 large, very fresh zucchini blossoms, cleaned
12 ounces excellent mozzarella cheese (the stringy kind for cooking, not fresh mozzarella) or Oaxacan-style cheese
2 egg whites, beaten to a froth
vegetable oil
Warm Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
Optional: A bowl of French or Italian black olives to be served alongside

Cut the mozzarella cheese into sticks approximately two inches long and a half-inch square, or cut so the sticks will fit neatly inside the zucchini blossoms.

Tuck the cheese inside the blossom, and gently fold the petals over to completely cover the cheese, giving the tips a twist like a Hershey’s kiss. If you aren’t going to cook the fritters immediately, refrigerate them covered with a paper towel.

In a heavy sauté pan, add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan with a layer ¼ inch deep. Heat the oil over medium heat. While the pan is heating, scrub the inside of a metal bowl and your whisk or metal beaters with a tablespoon of white vinegar and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Rinse with hot water and dry with a paper towel. Whip the egg whites to a white froth that is just beginning to hold its shape (soft peak stage).

Hold each blossom by its stem and coat thoroughly with the egg whites. Lay the blossom in the hot oil and cook until lightly golden on all sides and the cheese is melted but not oozing hot. Serve immediately.

Warm Tomato Sauce

2 large roma tomatoes
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Optional: three fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

Line a heavy pan, preferably cast iron, with a piece of foil wrap. Turn the heat on medium-high. Cut the stem end out of the tomatoes and set the tomatoes and garlic cloves on top of the foil in the pan. Roast the garlic on both sides until it is toasted, and remove from the pan. Continue to roast the tomatoes until they are blackened on all sides and beginning to soften. Bundle the foil around the tomatoes and lift out of the pan; cool. Reserve all juices.

Cool the garlic and peel it. Drop the garlic into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes and any juices that have escaped, and pulse into a chunky puree. Remove to a heatproof bowl. Stir in the salt and oil, and the basil (if using.) Cover and keep barely warm.

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed With Lobster, Corn And Ginger

This recipe is equally good made with lobster or shrimp. Note that the filling ingredients must be chopped very finely in order to stick together. Serves 4.

1 ear fresh sweet white corn
4 tablespoons whole butter (divided use)
1/4 medium white onion, very finely minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and very finely minced
1/4 cup very finely chopped white cabbage
½ serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and minced (optional)
8 ounces raw lobster meat or shrimp, finely chopped (do this by hand – a food processor will turn it to mush.)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
24 large, fresh zucchini blossoms, prepared for stuffing (see Sidebar)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Lemon Wedges (garnish)

Shuck the corn and remove all strings, Stand up on a plate and scrape the kernels onto the plate, reserving all corn milk. Use the back of the knife to scrape every bit of corn and corn milk from the cob.

Melt half the butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. Slowly cook and the onion, ginger, cabbage and serrano chiles until softened, stirring occasionally. Push the vegetables to one side, add the lobster meat, corn kernels and corn juices. Cook and stir until dry. Season with salt and white pepper.

When the filling is cool enough to handle, place a tablespoon of filling inside each blossom. Fold the petals over to enclose the filling and gently twist the tip to seal. (Chill if you are not going to cook them immediately.)

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick sauté pan. Over medium-low heat, cook the zucchini blossoms on all sides, until lightly colored. Put a cover on the pan, turn down heat to low and cook, covered, for 3 minutes. Remove the zucchini blossoms to a serving plate. Serve with lemon wedges.


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