To my delight, I have a new plant standing in full bloom this week between the jasmin and roses in our garden: a courgette plant, which I grew out of three little seeds. Yesterday we turned the first vegetable harvest of it into a salad with pine nuts and currants. As much as I love courgette in any possible form of preparation, in this case when I planted the seeds, harvesting my own veg wasn’t my primary goal. I was hoping for a plant which would grant me a look at the lovely courgette flowers which up till now I only knew from cookery pictures. And now that I’m treated to new blooms every day, I have started doing some research into the different ways these cheerful flowers can be turned into delicious food.
First some general plant theory. The courgette (or zucchini) produces male and female flowers. The male flowers grow on long, prickly stems and are there to fertilize the female ones; the female flowers grow on short stems which, if pollinated, can develop into a courgette. Both flowers are edible, with a mild flavour rather similar to that of the fruit. If you want to prepare them whole, the female flowers bring the pretty baby courgette as an added bonus. Because the flowers only keep very briefly after being harvested, in this country they are rarely to be found in vegetable stores or markets. All the more reason to make the most of them if you do come across them!
The best-known way to prepare courgette flowers is stuffing and then deep-frying them in a layer of batter, as fiori di zucchini ripieni. If, like me, you’d rather leave deep-frying things to restaurants, you can also tip the stuffed flowers in some whisked egg and briefly fry them in a pan, or, without battering, bake them in a moderately hot oven for 15 minutes.
I’ve been looking for a way of preparing the flowers that preserves their delicate flavour and original structure as well as possible. I stumbled upon a delicious-looking and surprisingly achievable-seeming recipe by Dominic Chapman, who stuffs the flowers and serves them raw in a salad (greatbritishchefs.com_recipe stuffed courgette flowers). To me, this seems like the most wonderful way to prepare them, especially when using the female flowers with the mini fruit attached.
But since my daughters wouldn’t let me pick the female flowers in our garden before our first full-grown vegetable harvest would be a fact, this week I had to limit myself to the male flowers and decided to take a different approach. At our Turkish veg store I found little round courgettes shining at me in a way I couldn’t resist. I briefly baked them until they were juicy and crunchy and then stuffed them with a fresh risotto, mixed with the ricotta often used as the basis for stuffed courgette flowers. Inspired by Gennaro Contaldo, I used the petals of the courgette flowers for a savoury topping, by stir-frying them in stock together with basil leaves. This way they retain their delicate structure and develop a strong, concentrated flavour. With raisins for a sweet accent and pine nuts for a bit of crunch, the result was a pretty picture and four very happy eaters!
Risotto with fried courgette flowers – serves 4
- 12 small round courgettes
- 1 tbsp. sunflower oil
- 10 courgette flowers
- 45 g fresh basil leaves
- 2 heaped tbsp. pine nuts
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 300 g risotto rice
- 150 ml dry white wine
- 1.5 l. vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp. yellow raisins
- 4 tbsp. ricotta
- 60 g Parmesan, grated
- zest of 1 lemon
Slice off the tops of the courgettes and scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or a teaspoon. The flesh isn’t used in this dish. Return the tops, brush the courgettes with the sunflower oil and place onto a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 200oC/400F/Gas 6.
Tear the petals off the courgette flowers and set aside. Tear 20 large basil leaves in two lengthways and put them with the courgette petals. Finely chop the remainder of the basil.
Put the pine nuts in a dry frying pan, gently toast them for 2-3 minutes, then tip onto a plate.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, add the shallots and gently fry until softened. Stir in the garlic and rice and fry while stirring for a few minutes until the garlic releases its fragrance and the rice is shiny. Pour in the wine and bubble over a medium heat while stirring constantly.
When the wine has just about been absorbed, add a ladle of stock. Keep stirring until the liquid is absorbed, then add another ladleful of stock. Keep cooking like this until you have used up about a litre of the stock. The rice should now be creamy and just tender. This takes about 20 minutes; if necessary, add some more stock until the rice is done to your liking.
When the risotto has been bubbling for about 10 minutes, transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Cook the courgettes for 10-12 minutes until slightly softened.
When the risotto and courgette are almost done, heat the last tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan, then add a ladle of the stock. Stir-fry the raisins, the torn basil leaves and the courgette petals for a few minutes until the raisins are swollen and the leaves have slightly wilted. Add some extra stock if the pan turns dry.
When the rice is done, take the pan off the heat and stir in the ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and chopped basil. Season with black pepper.
Stuff the courgettes with the risotto. Serve immediately, topped with the fried leaves, raisins and pine nuts.