Saturday, July 11, 2009
Fiori di zucchini ripieni (Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms)
I tried my first zucchini blossom in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto. We had walked to the ghetto from our apartment in Trastavere, crossing the Tiber river and the Isola Tiberia (Tiber Island - which, by the way, has spectacular pistachio gelato). If you were to zap me back to Rome Star Trek style I could show you the way. But for the life of me I can not explain how to get there or remember the name of the restaurant. I wish I’d been more like the hero in Everything is Illuminated - incessantly documenting details. Because now, though the memory sits with me, the particulars are foggy. I do, however, recall the zucchini blossoms. We had asked the waiter what was good. We allowed him to choose our meal. When the zucchini blossoms arrived we hesitated. "What is it?" we inquired in broken Italian. Zucchini was the reply. Of course the dish did not look like any zucchini we knew. These were stuffed, breaded and fried blossoms. Then we remembered where we were and you know the saying ... when in Rome. So we tasted them. Pure heaven.
Now back in the states these blossoms are a rarity (at least I haven’t seen them around). I suspect they could be found in the larger farmer’s markets but they do not seem to exist in my little town. However this year I have a fledgling vegetable bed am growing my own zucchini. The plants have done surprisingly well and have begun to bloom. Yesterday I harvested both male and female blossoms and managed to get nine flowers from two plants (though I must admit some were a bit more wilted than I’d like). This the perfect number of blossoms for two people but would not do well for a dinner party. Next year I may plant an entire bed of zucchini so we can host a true Italian affair.
The recipe in Regional Italian Cuisine is for baked blossoms - a different twist from our first experience - with a stuffing of zucchini, potatoes, basil, majoram, garlic, an egg and parmesan cheese. The potatoes are boiled and then pressed through a potato ricer. The zucchini is briefly boiled then pureed. The ingredients are combined and the blossoms stuffed then baked.
There was only one problem. We don’t own a ricer. You see I’m not a big mashed potato gal. The first and last time I attempted mashed potatoes was fifteen years ago. My then fiance (now husband) and I were hosting our first Thanksgiving. We wanted things done right, i.e. homemade. Back then our kitchen was even more sparse. We didn’t have a ricer, a mill or a masher. Silly me I attempted to make mashed potatoes in the blender. As my husband put it “Honey, can I have a straw?” Our friends were ever so gracious and ate them with a spoon. In retrospect I should’ve put the "mashed" potatoes in bowls and called it soup because that's what it was.
In all that time I never had the urge to try again and thus don't own a ricer. And yesterday I wasn’t ready for another purchase as we just spent a pretty penny on Vanilla Sugar. Then I looked carefully at the photograph of the potato ricer. It looked suspiciously like a garlic press. I had a garlic press. And since I was using baby red potatoes (they happened to be on hand) it seemed plausible that the garlic press might work. And you know what? It worked perfectly. Now I suspect I’ll have to invest in a potato ricer at some point because there are other recipes in my future such as Gnocchi di patate alla piemontese (Small Potato Dumplings Piedmont Style). And there are reasonable ricers to be found online. But yesterday the garlic press did the deed.
The blossoms were good though a touch bland. They were definitely not as tasty as those in the Jewish Ghetto. But my husband has a point - everything tastes better fried. For my next attempt at blossoms I’ll be looking for a stuffed, breaded and fried recipe.
Only half of yesterday's stuffing was used for the blossoms and I didn’t want to waste the remainder. The rest was spread on slices of crusty bread, sprinkled with additional parmesan cheese and briefly broiled then topped them a tomato slice and sprinkled with Kosher salt. These crostini were absolutely delicious. The salty tomato and crunch of the bread made all the difference. Were I to make the same recipe again I’d definitely top the blossoms with a fresh diced tomato.
All in all it was a good experience and I haven't given up on the blossoms yet.