Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fried Zucchini Flowers

I know I just posted a zucchini recipe, but the season is almost gone for these fragile, delicate-tasting blossoms, so you've got to move fast if you want to try them this year. When we lived in Italy, we saw them at markets everywhere, but they're not so easy to find in U.S. stores. Farmers' markets are your best bets, unless you've got your own garden. And if you don't have a vegetable plot, once you've tasted these, you'll want to start digging - or make friends with someone who does have a garden.
My favorite way to eat these beauties is to stuff them with mozzarella cheese and a sliver of an anchovy, then dip into a batter and deep fry.
They are wickedly good prepared this way, but I limit myself to this indulgence only once a year, since they're also wickedly caloric too. If you find yourself with an abundance of blossoms and don't want to go the deep-frying route, you can slice them into thin strips and add them to omelets, frittatas, even a risotto.
Fried Zucchini Flowers, two ways

For each of these recipes, soak the zucchini blossoms in water to get rid of any garden pests that might be lurking in the crevices. On the other hand, if you miss one here or there, a little more protein won't be so bad.

Lift the blossoms from the water carefully, then dry on a paper towel. Carefully spread open the petals and with a flick of a finger, remove the pistol inside.

First Recipe:
12 zucchini flowers
1 large ball mozzarella cheese
1 small tin anchovies

Slice the mozzarella into sticks and gently insert one piece of cheese and one small sliver of anchovy into the flower (you can omit the anchovy but it does add a nice zing). Dip into batter and deep fry in hot oil.

Second Recipe:
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Mix the cheeses, then very gently, using a demitasse or small teaspoon, insert a portion of the filling into the flower. If you are adept at using a piping bag, use that instead of a spoon, since the flowers tear easily. But even if they do rip a little, don't worry since the batter will coat them sufficiently to hide any rips. Dip into batter and fry in hot oil.

I have tried several different batter recipes, including a beer batter, but this one works best:
1 cup flour
sparkling water
1/2 tsp. salt

Just mix enough flour (one cup is plenty for a dozen blossoms) and enough sparkling water until you get a mixture that's the consistency of pancake batter. It's best to let it sit at least 15 minutes to help make it smoother. Dip the flowers into the batter, and deep fry in hot oil. I use a cast-iron skillet and fill it about 1/2 full with canola oil. I also use the burner on my outdoor gas grill, which helps to keep the kitchen spatter-free. Drain on paper towels and eat immediately.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stuffed Zucchini

Zowee Zucchini

Anyone with a vegetable garden knows what can
happen to zucchini when you turn your back on them for even one day.
One day the vegetables are little baby orbs at the end of a stem. But in the dark of the night when you're not watching, they mainstream steroids, and morph into something nearing the size of a baseball bat.
So for all of you with an abundance of zucchini, here's another way to use those babies. Just check your garden regularly though, and pick your zucchini before they're large enough to hit second base.
In this recipe, I use the round variety, but you can use the long ones equally as well.

Stuffed Baked Zucchini

4 small round, or long zucchini
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs
salt, pepper
fresh basil or parsley, chopped

Trim the stem off the zucchini, and place in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
Cool, then cut in half and scoop out interior of zucchini.
Salt and pepper the hollowed out zucchini.
Chop the part you scoop out and saute at high heat, along with the onion, in olive oil, until most of the water has evaporated from the zucchini.
In a bowl, place ricotta, eggs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and herbs.
Add the sauteed, chopped zucchini and onion to the ricotta mix and stir.
Place some of the filling inside each of the hollowed-out zucchini, sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top, and bake at 425 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Heirloom Tomato Salad

It wouldn't be August in New Jersey without tomatoes. With so much shade in our yard, it was hard to find a spot to plant a real vegetable garden - something my husband and I grew up with and missed. We both came from Italian families where the entire back yard was given over to a vegetable plot. We finally succumbed last year to our yearning and dug up the decades-old yew bushes along the side of our house -- the only spot with sun at least five hours a day. We now have a bonafide vegetable garden in place of the shrubs.
Last year I saved some seeds from heirloom tomatoes we had eaten from a local organic farm, and we also planted some plum tomato seeds I had brought back from a trip to Italy. We nurtured the seedlings until they were strong enough to be planted indoors, covering them at night with plastic milk jugs whose bottoms were cut out, in essence creating little "greenhouses." to protect the tender seedlings from the night-time frost.
Several months after planting, those little seedlings are like the plants that won't stop growing, laden with tomatoes of all shapes and colors. It never ceases to amaze me how a teensy-weensy seed no bigger than a flea can produce a lush, sprawling plant bearing pounds and pounds of fruit (a tomato is a fruit after all). At this point, they threaten to consume us like the plants in "The Little Shop of Horrors." But oh, do they taste divine.

Nothing could be simpler or easier than making a tomato salad, but with so few ingredients and no cooking involved, everything must of of top quality, starting with the tomatoes. If you're not growing your own or don't have a friend who has offered some of his bounty, go to a farmer's market or the organic section of a good supermarket. For the first recipe of this blog, which is really more "assembling" rather than cooking, here is my version of a tomato salad. I have not indicated any amounts for the ingredients, since it really depends on how many people will be eating and what size tomatoes you have. In general, one large tomato and a quarter of an onion per person is plenty. For the vinaigrette, I use three parts oil to one part vinegar, but you can adjust as you want. Salt and pepper the tomatoes copiously. Preferably, basil should be ripped by hand, not minced with a knife, to avoid bruises and get the best flavor. If you really want to knock 'em over, add slices of hand-made mozzarella -- not the rubbery stuff in the supermarket that pretends to be cheese, but the artisan kind you buy at good cheese stores and specialty shops.

Needless to say, don't try this recipe in January.

Heirloom Tomato Salad
tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties
fresh basil, torn by hand
kosher or sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
mozzarella, sliced