Saturday, September 12, 2009

Flower Power

I practically skipped and did fairy claps in the greengrocer this morning when I arrived to find that the first zucchini flowers of the season had appeared. To me, nothing means spring like these delicate beauties and along with asparagus, I think they are one of the best spring vegetables available. When choosing zucchini flowers, smaller is better. The zucchini should be bright green and unblemished and the flowers should show no sign of brown discolouration. Because they are so delicate, they don't cope with longterm storage or rough treatment, so treat them with lots of TLC and cook them within a day or so of purchasing. Here they are, fresh from the grocer.....

As well as the zucchini, I also noticed the most vibrant, glossy, fire engine red peppers for sale too and I got to thinking that I would build a dish around these ingredients. The result is a luscious, smoky flavoured scarlet coloured soup that is a delicious contrast the the freshness of the zucchini flowers. Add a filling with the creaminess of ricotta and the tang of lemon and you have a fabulous dish that just screams spring. This would be a great vegetarian main course or a lovely starter for a dinner party. A lot of recipes call for coating the zucchini in a light batter and frying them however I admit I'm not a big fan of this technique. I think it overshadows the clean, fresh taste of the produce so I just cook mine in the oven with a little olive oil.

This recipe is actually two, and you could easily serve the two elements seperately. The soup would be great hot or cold by itself and the zucchini would be a nice addition to an antipasto platter or draped with prosciutto as an entree. Feel free to make the soup the day before if you want to get the pepper roasting/peeling out of the way early. The soup will also freeze well but don't try to freeze the zucchini.
And here is the finished dish....

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup

with ricotta filled spring zucchini flowers

You will need: (for the soup) 4 whole red peppers (capsicums), 2 red onions, 6 large Roma (egg) tomatoes, 6 whole peeled cloves garlic, olive oil, 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon paprika, splash of Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.

Method: Drizzle some olive oil over the peppers and put them in a baking dish lined with baking paper. Bake them in a hot oven for about 45 minutes. They will scorch in places and you will probably hear a lot of sizzling and popping noises as they cook. This is as it should be.

While the peppers are cooking, roughly chop the onion. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and remove the seeds. Combine the onions,tomatoes, salt and pepper in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Combine well.
When the peppers are done, carefully remove them and put them all in a plastic bag. Tie up the bag and leave the peppers to cool for a few minutes. They will steam a little and this will make removing the skins (the next step) a whole lot easier.

Add the tomato/onion mixture to your baking dish and cook them in a hot oven for about 25 mins. While they are cooking, carefully remove the skin. core and seeds from the peppers. You will be left only with the flesh and it will be sweet and caramelised. Take extra care to ensure that you get rid of all the seeds, as they can be very bitter and will ruin the taste of your final dish.
When the tomatoes are done, transfer the mixture to a saucepan and add the roasted peppers, stock, paprika, tabasco, sugar and salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and let the ingredients cook for about 15 mins. Now puree the mixture till smooth (I use a hand blender) and taste for seasoning. Adjust if required.

You will need: (For the zucchini) 8 young zucchini with flowers attatched, 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, Grated rind of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of mint and continental parsley, salt and pepper.

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

Now, prepare the zucchini. Be very gentle when handling them, as the blooms are very fragile. Also, do not wash them - the petals will become sodden and they will be impossible to work with. If they need a clean, use a damp paper towel on the zucchini only, not the flower.

Gently open the flower and remove and disgard the yellow/white stamen inside. Taking a teaspoon of the ricotta filling, carefully fill the flower and close the petals around the filling. Give them a little twist at the top to keep everything contained.

Drizzle the zucchini with olive oil and cook in a moderate oven for about 15 mins.

To assemble the dish: Ladle the soup (hot or cold, however you are serving it) into shallow bowls. Lay the zucchini on the top and serve. This recipe will serve 4.


  1. Made this soup last night and was gorgeous but couldn't find zucchini flowers. Instead I made some spinach and ricotta gnocci - colours looked fabulous. Thank you. Mary

  2. Hi Mary - using the gnocci sounds like a great idea - the freshness of the ricotta and spinach would have been gorgeous with the rich smokiness of the soup. And yes, the colour certainly makes a statement! Glad you enjoyed it :)