È davvero finita l’estate! Summer is really over. I just picked the last fiori di zucca in my garden and I’ll have to wait a long time to taste them again. Fiori di zucca are a real delicacy and one of my favourite foods. They are ‘i fiori maschili della zucchina’ the male flowers of the zucchina plant. The flowers growing off of long, thin stems are male. The ones growing off the end of a future zucchina are female (femminile). The female flowers are edible too, but if you pick them there will be no crop of zucchine! If you pick too many of the male flowers, you will also have no zucchine!
To clarify, zucca is Italiano for squash or pumpkin. ‘Zucchina’ (given a sex change and called zucchini in North America) means little squash. The flowers of all 3 can be called fiori di zucca, but it is usually the flowers of zucchine (zucchina is singular and zucchine is plural) that are used in cooking. Squash and pumpkin flowers can also be used, but they can have a bittery taste.
Fiori di zucca are extremely delicate and will only last a few days after picking. They are even too delicate to freeze. In Italia it isn’t hard to find fiori di zucca in season. I recently bought a ‘bouquet’ of them at a market in Foggia for 1 Euro. Sometimes you can even buy small zucchine with the flowers still attached. I’ve only seen fiori di zucca for sale once in North America, several years ago at a farmer’s market in Seattle. I won’t even mention how much they cost! So, if you want to eat fiori di zucca you really need to grow your own-or find a friend who grows them and doesn’t know how good they taste!
Fiori di zucca have a beautiful, delicate taste. I like to cook them a few different ways, but my favourite is in a simple ‘pastella’. I whisk cold fizzy mineral water (acqua frizzante) with flour or semolino (durum wheat semolina) a drop of olive oil and pepper until it is not too thick or thin-like the consistency of pancake batter. If it is too thin, it won’t stick, but if it’s too thick, the fiori can be damaged. Gently clean fiori and remove the sepals-those green leaves at the base near the stem. Some people remove the stamens inside, but I usually leave them. Dip them in pastella (batter) and fry in hot oil. I usually use grapeseed oil. When they are done, place on a plate with‘carta assorbente’ (paper towel) and add salt. The bubbles in the mineral water make this pastella light and crispy. The batter doesn’t overpower delicate taste of the fiori like a heavy egg and flour batter would.
Fiori can also be stuffed with ricotta before frying (remember the ricotta fatta in casa post) or ‘farciti con mozzarella e prosciutto’-stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto. Gnam, gnam, gnam (English translation…yum, yum, yum).
Lately I have also been making my fiori di zucca into frittelle (little fritters). This is a good way to stretch out your fiori and use broken and torn ones or include some larger pumpkin flowers. Measurements are not too important here. I mix some 00 flour and baking powder, then mix in 1 peeled, grated zucchina until it is coated with flour. Add some fresh torn basil leaves if you have them and some freshly grated parmigiano or asiago and 1 large or 2 small eggs. Once this is all mixed, add enough water to give it the consistency of pancake batter. You will need more water than you think!
Gently dip the intact fiori in batter and fry in hot oil. When they are finished, chop up the broken ones and add to the rest of the batter. Drop about 1 tablespoon of batter at a time into the oil to make ‘frittelle. Place on paper towel and add salt. They are delicious hot or cold. For those of you who absolutely, positively can’t manage without measurements….here is a link to a recipe that is fairly similar.
My friend Peppe Zullo in Orsara di Puglia, il ‘cuoco contadino’ www.peppezullo.it picks hundreds of fiori a day in his orto (vegetable garden) when they are in season. His ristorante serves ‘fiori di zucca al forno, ripiene con caciocavallo’ (baked and stuffed with caciocavallo). Gnam, gnam, gnam!!!
Looking forward to summer when I can enjoy fiori di zucca again! A l’anno prossimo!