Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura   Recipe
Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura

By Wolfgang Puck

One of the best reasons for going to the farmers' market is the chance it offers to find fresh seasonal items not ordinarily sold in supermarkets. Zucchini flowers are a perfect example.

The big, pale-yellow-orange blossoms have long been a special early-summer treat in Mediterranean countries. Their delicately sweet, almost perfume-like flavor pairs with a texture so tender when cooked that the petals almost evaporate in your mouth.

But try finding them in your neighborhood food store. By the time zucchini reach the size and weight with which most of us are familiar, their blossoms have long since withered and vanished. You'll only encounter zucchini flowers beautifully fresh and edible when the zucchini themselves are very tiny, even smaller than the baby zucchini that were so popular in restaurants a decade or more ago.

Fortunately, small growers recognize how wonderful the flowers can be, and you'll often see the pretty blossoms displayed on farmers' market stalls, often with the tiny zucchini still attached. Of course, if you're among the many home gardeners who grow zucchini, you can also easily pick them yourself.

In Italy, many cooks shred the flowers and vegetable and toss them together with pasta, some oil or butter, and grated Parmesan. My favorite way to cook them, though, is to dip them in a light batter and deep-fry them. The batter makes a delicious, crunchy counterpoint to the tender petals, while the brief exposure to the hot oil's intense heat enhances their perfume. I also take the cuplike shape of the blossoms as a chance to stuff them before frying with a light, mild filling like the herbed goat cheese mixture in the recipe here. If you like, you could substitute fresh, creamy ricotta, and also include minced cooked ham or shrimp, or sauteed mushrooms.

Whatever the filling, take special care to ensure that the flowers stay light and non-greasy. Use a delicate batter, like my version of an airy, crispy Japanese tempura coating. And make sure the oil is fresh and heated to 375 degrees F., a temperature high enough to keep it from being absorbed. Automatic deep-fryers regulate temperatures well, though many home models don't have a large enough capacity to let you fry all the blossoms at once. Instead, I like to use an electric wok with a built-in thermostat control. Of course, you can also use a large, heavy pot, attaching a deep-frying thermometer to its side.

You can serve your stuffed zucchini flowers straight out of the fryer as a summer cocktail party hors d'oeuvre. To turn them into a sit-down appetizer, place them on top of a simple tomato sauce, garnished with fresh basil leaves flash-fried in the hot oil, for a simple, beautiful, delicious taste of summer.

Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura Recipe

Serves 8

Tempura Batter Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup rice flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 cups club soda

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers Ingredients

8 ounces mild, creamy goat cheese, at room temperature

5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

16 zucchini flowers, cleaned

Tomato Sauce Ingredients

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups canned organic diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon sugar

4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and minced

4 fresh basil leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips

Vegetable oil, for deep-frying

16 large fresh basil leaves, patted dry with paper towels

Recipe Preparation

First, make the batter:

Sift all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in the soda water until a batter forms that is fluid but thick and creamy enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Prepare the filling:

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients, mashing them together with a fork until smooth but firm enough to mold, adding a little more oil if necessary. Shape into oblongs, each about 1 heaping tablespoon, placing them on a plate.

One at a time, carefully open each zucchini flower and insert an oblong of filling into its center. Gently press the filling down into the base and squeeze the petals around the filling to enclose it completely. Place the stuffed flowers on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Prepare the sauce:

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick but still fluid, about 15 minutes. Stir in the thyme, basil, and remaining oil. Cover and keep warm.

While the sauce is cooking, fill an electric wok or automatic deep-fryer with vegetable oil, or fill a deep, heavy pot half full with oil; heat to 375 degrees F. Holding a stuffed zucchini flower by its stem, dip it into the batter, letting excess batter drip off. Carefully slip the flower into the oil. Repeat with the remaining flowers. Fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes, turning with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon to help the flowers cook evenly. Lift them out with the deep-fryer basket, skimmer, or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Immediately drop the whole basil leaves into the oil, taking care to avoid splattering, and submerge them with the skimmer or slotted spoon. When they turn dark green, after only about 10 seconds, remove them and drain on paper towels.

Spoon the sauce onto individual heated serving plates. Place 2 squash blossoms on each plate and garnish with 2 basil leaves. Serve immediately.

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Recipes: "Stuffed Zucchini Flower Tempura "

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