Cooking with Squash Blossoms: Zucchini Flowers in the Kitchen
By Jennifer Bartoli
Zucchini flowers are a prime example of how, through the ages, chefs' aversions to waste have melded into cooking traditions. Zucchini flowers, the bright, colorful counterpart to the ubiquitous vegetable found in every grocery store, have been transformed from a mere byproduct to a popular, elegant delicacy. The flowers grow on zucchini plants and are very seasonal, with the harvest peaking at the beginning of the summer. A single zucchini plant produces an average of 50 zucchini flowers, found increasingly at farmer's markets, and on restaurant and kitchen tables alike.
Zucchini Flowers through Time
These delicate and colorful flowers have long been a staple of many different cuisines. Due in large part to their intrinsic beauty and simple fresh flavor, the zucchini flower has been incorporated into dramatically different culinary styles. Chefs in France, especially in Provence, have been cooking with "fleurs de courgettes" for centuries. In the same vein as bouillabaisse, the famous Provencal recipe made with the leftover fish of the day and slowly simmered into a flavorful stew, zucchini flowers were used in different gratins as a way to curb waste. They're also commonly used in Italian recipes, where they make wonderful additions to risottos, frittatas, and roasted vegetable salads. Mexican recipes also use the flowers in soups and as fillings for enchiladas and quesadillas.
How to Cook with Zucchini Flowers
Zucchini flowers have a very delicate flavor and texture. They are extremely versatile and are used as much for their taste as for their beautiful shape and color. A zucchini flower is the quintessential fresh, local ingredient because, being so fragile, they must be used no later than a few days after harvest, which explains why you're much more likely to find them at a local farmers market than at the grocery store. Once obtained, they must be handled with care while they're cleaned and the pistils are gently removed from the inside. Their flavor is equally delicate and subtle, and chefs should take care not to match the flowers with too many bold and overpowering ingredients. The shape of the flowers makes them perfect shells for stuffing, and you can fry them after dipping them in a light batter. The male flowers, which grow directly off the stalk of the zucchini plant, are generally longer and larger than their female counterparts, making them the better choice for stuffing. They can also be steamed, poached, served raw, or used as a decoration on fish and vegetable platters.
Despite their countless uses, a zucchini flower is always an elegant way to herald the arrival of summer and seasonal, local cooking. Their mere presence in a recipe subtly evokes a return to the kind of eating where the meal was grown not far from the dinner table.