Friday, December 3, 2010

Seasonal Treasure

Whilst I am not a huge fan of summer, (give me autumn or winter any time!!)I am a fan of summer produce. I'm loving watching the late spring/early summer fruits and vegetables start to appear at the greengrocer. All those lovely berries and stone fruits, summer herbs, mangoes - yum! This time of the year also gets me thinking of what to cook for the Christmas lunch table.I admit that at the moment my proposed menu changes almost daily, as I am reminded of all the great ingredients that will be available over the next few weeks. The only thing I am sure that we will be serving is the french champagne we have put away for the occasion (thanks to a trip to the duty free shop on the way home from New Zealand recently!) Nothing says celebration like a good slug of bubbly!

But I digress..... back to this season's treasures -

My love of zucchini flowers has been well documented on this site - I adore the sweetness of the flesh, the delicate flowers and the versatility of this gorgeous vegetable. Whilst I tend to stuff mine and oven roast them (drizzled with some good olive oil), this time I went for the more common option of serving them in a light tempura batter. For the filling, I chose a delicious combination of 3 cheeses and pumpkin, seasoned with a touch of nutmeg which adds a beautiful aromatic note to this lovely vegetarian dish.

I always think zucchini flowers look incredibly elegant in presentation, and are a great dinner party option. You can serve them alone or with a simple tomato based nepolitana sauce like I have today. Fried zucchini flowers need to be cooked at the last minute and served right away. You can prepare them up to the tempura stage, but you should only start cooking them once your guests are sitting at the table. Soggy tempura is not a good look folks!

The idea of stuffing a zucchini flower may seem a bit fiddly, but once you have performed the task, you will discover it is actually quite easy - and the results are really worth the effort. They are not always easy to source - if you are having trouble ask your greengrocer to order them in for you. Be aware that they do not keep well, so cook them within a day or so of purchasing them. The flesh should be firm and the flowers should not have any sign of brown spots or be too moist to touch - this is a sign that they are not fresh.

If you have never eaten zucchini flowers, I would urge you to give them a try - especially right now while they are in season and at their best.

Tempura zucchini flowers
with pumpkin and 3 cheeses

For the zucchini:
You will need: 10-12 baby zucchini (flowers attached of course!) 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, 1/2 cup cooked mashed pumpkin, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons grated mozzerella cheese, 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoon finely chopped continental parsley, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine all of the ingredients except the zucchini and mix well. Set the mixture aside.

Carefully remove the stamens from the inside of the zucchini flowers - they should just snap off. Be careful not to destroy the petals of the flowers in the process.

Gently fill the flowers with your filling - I sometimes use a piping bag to do this, but have also just used a teaspoon - both methods work well. (Although the piping bag option is a tad neater)

Set aside your zucchini ready for the next step.....

For the tempura:  
You will need: 3/4 cup plain flour ,1/4 cup cornflour, pinch of bicarbonate of soda ,1 egg, lightly whisked ,1 cup chilled soda water. Oil for frying.

Method: Sift the flour, cornflour and bicarbonate of soda in a medium bowl. Make a well in the centre. Add the egg and soda water and use chopsticks to gently whisk until just combined (do not overmix - the mixture should be lumpy). Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with iced water.

Add enough oil to a large saucepan to reach a depth of 6cm. Place over high heat. To test when oil is ready, a cube of bread turns golden-brown in 10 seconds.

Place extra flour on a plate. Dip the vegetables in the flour to lightly coat. Dip one quarter of the vegetables, one at a time, into the batter. Shake off any excess. Deep-fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

Drain on paper towels. Serve with your favourite tomato nepolitana sauce (I put olives in mine)

Spoon sauce onto serving plate/plates and serve immediately with wedges of lemon.


1 comment:

  1. wow.....I am impressed. I Love to eat the zucchini or pumpkin flowers fresh and stuffed with fresh market bought ricotta that has a mixture of fresh herbs, pepper, and salt mixed through it....delicious also.
    Eating flowers....there is something very exciting about it! Fiona