Fiori di zucca fritti alla romana

There is not a more delicate, succulent, savory summer treat than the blossoms that arrive with young zucchini.

Zucchini blossoms are considered a delicacy in many part of the world.  In Mexico, the flower is featured in sopa de flor de calabaza and quesadillas de flor de calabaza.  The Greeks fill zucchini blossoms with feta, rice or meat and bake them in tomato sauce.  In Italy there are many different dishes that feature zucchini blossoms, but the best known is fiori di zuccca fritti, or batter-fried zucchini blossoms.

Summers in Italy, when the zucchini harvest is at its peak, there are more zucchini blossoms than one knows what to do with.  Mothers and grandmothers gently fry them in their kitchens for their children and grandchildren, pizzerie and trattorie offer them as appetizers on their menus.  The flower’s mild zucchini flavor and creamy texture, offset by the light and crispy batter-fried exterior, is something you must experience to fully understand.

In Rome, fiori di zucca fritti has become one of the city’s signature dishes.  While the blossom is filled with different ingredients in different parts of Italy – ricotta or prosciutto di parma, for example – fiori di zucca fritti alla romana are filled with a single strip of mozzarella, and a thin anchovy.

Here, zucchini blossoms are not always easy to find.  Like so many good foods, they have made their appearance as peoples from different parts of the world have made the Twin Cities their home and brought with them the cultures and cuisines of their homeland.  We owe today’s flowers to two Hmong vendors at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

A few notes:

  • If you haven’t developed a palate for anchovies yet, you can omit them.  Just don’t admit it to a Roman.
  • This is one time when you want your mozzarella to be more solid and less milky.  It’s best to minimize the liquids when you fry the blossoms to prevent the hot oil from splattering.
  • Some claim that using sparkling water renders the batter lighter and crispier.  The fizzy water has the same effect that beer does in a beer batter, without changing the flavor.
  • Like most flowers, there are male and female zucchini flowers.  The males grow off of the stem of the zucchini plant, and have stamen inside their blossom.  The females grow directly off of the end of the zucchini, and have pistils inside their blossom.  (My apologies, reader. That was more information about zucchini blossoms than you cared to know.)  Both male and female blossoms are edible, and in both cases the stamen or the pistils should be removed before cooking.


For the flowers
12 – 16 zucchini blossoms
2 mozzarella ovoline (1 tub)
6-8 anchovies

For the batter
1 C. water
1 egg
2 C. flour
2 pinches of salt
Vegetable oil

Remove the stem of the zucchini flowers.  Carefully separate the petals of the golden blossoms and remove the stamen or pistils, as well.

Wash the flowers carefully under cold water, and pat dry with a cotton cloth or paper towels.

Cut the mozzarella into strips 1/4 inch wide.  Slice the anchovies in half lengthwise.

Carefully insert a strip of mozzarella and a halved anchovy into each flower.

Close the blossoms around the mozzarella and anchovies and twist the ends carefully to keep the filling inside.

Place ample vegetable oil into a deep frying pan and heat the oil over high gas.

Prepare the batter by stirring together the water, egg and salt in shallow bowl, gradually sifting the flour into the water and mixing with a wire whisk.  The batter should be moderately dense.  You may add flour or water as needed until the batter reaches the consistency of your preference.

Dip each flower into the batter, coating it completely, and place it carefully into the hot oil.  Turn it gently until all sides have fried to a golden brown.  Remove from oil and set on a plate covered in paper towels to absorb the extra oil  If desired, sprinkle a dusting of salt over the fried zucchini flowers.

Fiori di zucca are equally delicious hot, or at room temperature.

Tomato Recipes: #4, Pesto alla siciliana

This is the fourth and final post on the Tomato, each an entry in the Washington Post’s 2011 Top Tomato recipe contest.  Previous posts include our first entry, Pomodori al riso; second entry, Panzanella; and third entry, Melanzane e pomodorini.  We also entered our most popular post, Pasta fredda.

We find simple pleasure in upsetting the natural order of things.  The unanticipated, that which catches us slightly off guard, is good for the mind and for the soul.  We’re talking about nothing overt or drastic – just small things, minor interruptions in the routine of our days.  It keeps us slightly off-balance, forces the senses and the mind to engage, wards against getting stuck in a rut.

Pesto alla siciliana is just that – a simple and unexpected deviation from the dark green basil-pine nut-garlic-parmesean sauce that we’ve come to know as pesto.  The word pesto comes from pestello, or pestle in English, and refers to any combination of ingredients ground together by mortar and pestle.

We’ve mentioned before that Italian cuisine is regionally-specific.  In the rest of the world, we think of Italian food.  In Italy, food varies by region, influenced heavily by the climate, the land, and the plants and animals that inhabit it.  The basil, pine nuts, garlic, and parmesean sauce which we call pesto is actually pesto alla genovese, originating in Liguria, where the city of Genova is found.

The south of Italy has provided a few different variations of pesto, making good use of the foods that grow in that sun-drenched part of the country.  From Calabria we have pesto alla calabrese, with roasted red peppers, eggplant, ricotta and just a bit of tomato.  Pesto alla siciliana leaves out the red peppers and the eggplant, giving greater emphasis to the tomato and ricotta while keeping the pine nuts common to the genovese version.  The Sicilian city of Trapani yeilds yet another version, pesto alla trapanese, with tomatoes, almonds, and pecorino cheese.

We based our version on the classic pesto alla siciliana recipe, but borrowed the almonds from the trapanese version and used ricotta salata along with fresh ricotta and parmesean for a more complex cheese flavor.

1 medium tomato
50 g. fresh ricotta
25 g. ricotta salata
25 g. parmesean
25 g. pine nuts
25 g. almonds
1 small bunch basil
½ clove garlic
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. olive oil
optional – 1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Cut tomato into small pieces and place them into a food processor.  Add the fresh ricotta. Cut the ricotta salata and parmesean into small pieces, and add the to the food processor.  Add the pine nuts and almonds, and then the basil.  Chop the garlic and add it as well, along with the salt, olive oil and crushed red pepper if desired.

Blend in the food processor until smooth.  Toss with short pasta cooked to al dente, and serve with a dusting of fresh grated parmesean on top.


  • We used a medium-sized locally grown beefsteak tomato.  You can experiment with different tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes.
  • Go out of your way to get good, fresh ricotta.  The tub at the supermarket should be a last option.  We used goat milk ricotta from Broder’s in south Minneapolis.
  • Ricotta salata is a hard Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk.  It is white in color and dense, somewhat similar to a feta.  You may have to look around to find it.  We purchased ours at our local Costco. If you come up short, just double the amount of parmesean.
  • We prefer pesto alla siciliana on short pasta.  For this meal, we opted for a pasta also made in the south of Italy, fusillata casareccia made by Pastificio G. Di Martino, which we picked up at our local Kowalski’s Market.  Any short pasta, such as penne, will do just fine.

Wine Pairing
We recommend a Nero d’Avola with pesto alla siciliana, as the Nero d’Avola is an indigenous Sicilian grape.  This is a well-balanced red wine with nice acidity that complements the pesto’s cheese and tomato base.  The wine has a fruit forward approach that makes it food-friendly, but it is also very pleasant to enjoy by itself.  We drank a 2008 Nero d’Avola from the producer Ajelllo.

Tomato Recipes: #3, Melanzane e Pomodorini

This is the third of 4 new posts on the Tomato, each an entry in the Washington Post’s 2011 Top Tomato recipe contest.  Our first entry, Pomodori al riso, and second entry, Panzanella, were previous posts.  We also entered our most popular post, Pasta fredda.

It’s late July and outside it hot – hazy skies, drastic dew-points, and soaring temperatures.  The heat was so intense this week that pavements buckled, power outages ensued and outdoor events were cancelled in Minneapolis.  Windows steamed up and pavements glistened in the humidity.  At night, the skies became tempestuous and wild.

Melanzane e pomodorini is just the dish for weather like this.  The artful combination of seasonal produce has the vibrant hues and intense flavors of a deep, hot summer.  Grilled eggplant provides an earthy, nutty taste, kept in balance by the juicy, tangy cherry tomatoes.  Finely diced garlic gives an edginess to the salad, olive oil adds depth and makes it glisten, and flat leaf parsley lends a hint of freshness, like a cool breeze arriving to break the heat.

1 large or 2 medium eggplants
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
1 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
1/8 C. olive oil
Salt to taste

Cut the cherry tomatoes into small pieces and place in a salad bowl.  Chop the parsley and add it to the tomatoes.  Dice the garlic finely, and add it to the bowl.  Pour olive oil over the tomato mixture, and stir well.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside.

Slice the stem off the top of the eggplant and using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, peel the skin off of the eggplant.  Cut the eggplant into slices approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Arrange the eggplant slices onto a grill and cook over high heat, turning once until both sides are golden brown.  Watch the eggplant carefully; it will only take a few minutes per side to cook.  In absence of a grill, the eggplant can also be cooked in a skillet on a stove top.  If you opt for this method, simply place the eggplant directly onto a hot skillet.

Add the grilled eggplant to the bowl with tomato mixture and stir well.  The eggplant will absorb the olive oil and the juices of the tomatoes, turning a darker color and curling up in the process.  Allow the dish to sit for a few minutes, and serve at room temperature.

Tomato Recipes: #2, Panzanella

This is the second of 4 new posts on the Tomato, each an entry in the Washington Post’s 2011 Top Tomato recipe contest.  Our first entry, Pomodori al riso, was a previous post.  We also entered our most popular post, Pasta fredda.

La panzanella is a rustic, summertime recipe from the Italian cucina povera, a style of cooking characterized by tantalizing dishes originally made by the poor and working classes from humble ingredients.  In the cucina povera, home-grown food is put to good use and no left-over is wasted.  True to that value, la panzanella was created as a way to use up bread gone stale.

Originally a Tuscan dish, la panzanella eventually spread to the Umbria, Marche and Lazio regions of central Italy, and as often happens variations emerged.  The original Tuscan recipe called for bread, red onion, basil, olive oil, wine vinegar and salt.  Tomatoes were soon added to the recipe, and over time la panzanella became known as a bread and tomato dish.

Today cucumbers are often included with the tomatoes, while not all recipes call for onions.  Finally, a notable difference exists in la panzanella as a salad with the bread broken into pieces, most common in Tuscany, in contrast to la panzanella as a whole piece of soaked bread with the tomatoes on top, sometimes referred to as la panzanella romana.

Although the bread remains whole in Stefano’s mom’s panzanella, for this post we opted for the salad version, using our home-made left over bread, tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmer’s market, red onion, and garden basil for a touch of color.

4 slices of stale bread
2 ripe tomatoes
1 medium cucumber
2 very thin slices of red onion
1 small bunch of basil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Olive oil

Lay the bread into a shallow pan and add cold water up to the top of the slices.  Drizzle one tablespoon of white wine vinegar over the bread, and let soak for 20 minutes.

Cut two very thin slices of red onion, and place them into a bowl of cold water to allow some of the strong flavor dissipate for 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, cut the tomatoes and cucumber into cubes and place into a bowl.  Chop the basil and add it to the mix.  Toss with salt and mix.

Return to your bread, which will have soaked up the water and vinegar mixture.  Remove the crust, squeeze out the excess liquids, and crumble large pieces of bread into the bowl with the tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.

Drizzle olive oil over the salad, and stir well.  Refrigerate at least one hour, and serve chilled.

Wine Pairing
We drank a 2008 Italian Chardonnay by producer Giacomo Vico with the rustic and earthy panzanella.   This is a classic Chardonnay from the Langhe area of Piedmont, well-balanced with a yeasty, buttery flavor and a nice, clean finish.

Tomato Recipes: #1, Pomodori al riso

This is the first of 4 new posts on the Tomato, each an entry in the Washington Post’s 2011 Top Tomato recipe contest.  Our 5th entry, a previous post, can be viewed here.

Pomodori al riso
During the years when their garden was at its prime, Stefano’s parents grew more tomatoes than we knew what to do with.  One of our favorite summertime recipes is pomodori al riso, or rice-stuffed tomatoes, which we always make with pan-roasted potatoes.  The rice absorbs the summery flavors of tomato, basil, and Italian parsley for a dish that is meant to be served on a patio with a glass of chilled wine.

We had the pleasure of enjoying them with our friends Riccardo, Monica, their daughter Veronica and Riccardo’s mother Venisa, who is visiting from Italy and whose valuable advice has made this recipe even better.  The culinary knowledge of mothers and grandmothers of Italy is true treasure.

4 large, ripe but still firm tomatoes
1/2 c. Arborio rice
1 small bunch basil
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic
4 anchovies (optional)
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4-6 medium potatoes

With a sharp knife, slice the tops off of the tomatoes and set the tops aside.  Carefully remove the pulp of the tomato by cutting through the walls, and scooping out the fruit with a spoon.  Set the hollowed tomatoes aside.

  Preserve the pulp and  juices from each tomato.  Dice the solid parts into small pieces, and place it all into a bowl. Finely chop the basil and parsley, and add it to the tomatoes.  Cut the garlic and the anchovies into small pieces, and them to the tomato mixture.  Add the rice, along with two liberal dashes of salt.  Stir, and let marinate for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400° F.  Peel the potatoes, cut them into uniformly sized small pieces, and distribute them evenly at the bottom of a medium baking pan.  Salt and pepper the potatoes well, drizzle olive oil over them, and stir.

Retrieve your hollowed tomatoes and lids.  Fill each tomato approximately 3/4 full with the rice-tomato mixture.  Do not over-fill, or the rice will be too dry.  Spoon all of the remaining liquid into the tomatoes.  Place the lids back on the tomatoes, and bake for approximately 1 hour.  Periodically stir the potatoes and check the firmness of the cooking rice.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

For the photo shoot, we over-filled this tomato. When cooking at home, only fill the tomato 3/4 full with rice.

Wine Pairing
We paired the pomodori al riso with a 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba di la Morra produced by Ascheri.  The Dolcetto grape is common to the Piedmont wine region, and Dolcetto from the Alba area is generally considered superior to other Dolcetto wines.  With its fruit and floral character and its mild acidity and tannins, it is a lighter dry red wine which can be served chilled.

An Italian Vacation

Cyprus trees line the majestic entrance to Il Borro. Photo:

We had driven kilometers and kilometers along curvy mountain roads after leaving the Autostrada A1.  Outside, the July Tuscan heat was stifling.

When we finally pulled up to Il Borro and saw the stately cypress lining the gravel path leading up to the main villa, the beauty of the place made the journey well worth it.

After an evening in our farmhouse Casa al Piano, a refreshing swim in the pool under the hot Tuscan sun, and a dinner under the evening skies at Osteria del Borro that concluded with the most amazing crostata di ricotta we’d ever sampled, we knew that it was a place to return to.

Il Borgo, the 11th century restored village at Il Borro. Photo:

Il Borro is an 11th century medieval village and estate that the Italian  Salvatore Ferragamo family purchased in 1993 from Duke Amadeo of Aosta.  They restored the entire village, and turned into a unique resort of sorts.  The complex includes village apartments, farmhouse apartments and complete villas, a spa, a Michelin-rated restaurant, a vineyard, and a wine cellar that houses award-winning Tuscan wines.

Casa al Piano was our home when we stayed at Il Borro. Photo:

A swim in the pool was refreshing under the scorching Tuscan heat. Photo at

Il Borro’s vineyards. Photo at

The road leading to Il Borro awaits our return. Photo at

Friends and family planning trips to Italy often ask us for ideas on where to go, and where to stay.  Il Borro is certainly a place we highly recommend.  Italy, however, is blessed with seas, mountains, plains and valleys, providing an countless array of enticing foods to sample, splendid wines to taste and alluring places to stay in cities and villages all across the country.

We can spend endless hours researching and planning our Italian vacations.  Just returned this past January, we are already sketching out or next trip, in summer of 2012.  On Stefano’s agenda is a tour of the Piemonte wine region, and maybe a stay at the Albergo Castiglione, adjacent to Paolo Saracco’s vineyards.  I’d like to drop down to Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast for a few days at the sea.

Travelers who wish to spend more time in a particular part of Italy and explore the area from a central location should consider renting an apartment or a villa.  We recently came across a small company based out of Boston and Genova, Italy called Parker Villas.  While there are hundreds of listing services for renting properties in Italy, Parker Villas stood out to us for being highly accountable for the quality of its properties, and for having a strong customer-service orientation.  We’ve not used their services and therefore must use caution in recommending them, but we were intrigued by their properties and thought our readers may be, too.

Below are a few of their offerings from different regions of Italy, and our ideas for a trip to each of them. May your vacation planning be inspired and fruitful!

Villa La Quinta

Parker Villa’s Villa La Quinta. Photo at

Villa La Quinta is located in the northern city of Bellagio, on Lago di Garda.

Go there for:

  • The original terracotta floors and period antiques.
  • The meticulate lawn, gardens and terraces.
  • The breathtaking views of Lake Garda.

The Tortuga

Parker Villa’s Tortuga apartment in Le Gondole, Venice. Photo at

The Tortuga is one of several 2-person apartments in Le Gondole building, located in Venice’s island district of Giudecca.

Go there for:

  • The gorgeous hard-wood floors and wood-beamed ceilings.
  • The marble bathroom.
  • A weekend in one of the world’s most romantic cities.

Villa Ava

Parker Villa’s Villa Ava in Montefollonico, Tuscany. Photo at

Villa Ava is located in the Tuscan countryside, near the Umbrian border and within short driving distance to some of Tuscany and Umbria’s most charming towns.  Able to sleep 10 comfortably, it is the ideal location for a large family gathering or a vacation with friends.

Go there for:

  • The vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards.
  • The villa’s interior stone archways.
  • A home-cooked feast on the lovely outdoor patios.

Roman Holiday

Parker Villa’s Roman Holidy apartment in Rome. Photo at

The Roman Holiday apartment is located in Rome, on a narrow side street just off of Piazza Navona, within short walking distance of Campo de’ Fiori and the Pantheon.

Go there for:

  • Its amazing location in the heart of Rome.
  • The osteria just across the street.
  • The air-conditioning; summers in Rome are sweltering and AC isn’t always common.

Corona del Golfo’s Diamante

Corona del Golfo’s Diamante apartment in Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Photo at

Corona del Golf’s Diamante apartment is located in Positano, one of several villages perched in the steep mountains that form the spectacular coastline of the Amalfi Coast.

Go there for:

  • Morning cappuccino and an evening glass of wine on the pergola-covered terrace overlooking the coast and the Mediterranean sea.
  • An exceptional seafood dinner in an unbelievable location at Torre Normanna.
  • A trip to the neighboring village Vietri sul Mare to shop for colorful, hand-painted ceramics.
  • A day trip to the island of Capri; it’s just a ferry-ride away.

Dimora dei Signori

Dimora dei Signori in Trecastagni, Sicily. Photo as

Dimora dei Signori is located in a small town near Catania, on the eastern coast of the island of Sicily.  With a rental car, families and friends can conveniently explore the island’s architectural, geographical and culinary treasures.

Go here for:

  • Its vicinity to the lava-spewing Mt. Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano.  If you are lucky, it may give you a fireworks show.
  • Easy access to the fish markets, thermal spas, and architectural treasures of Sicily’s eastern shore.
  • A gelato-centered culinary tour of the ancient island.

Are you planning a trip to Italy?  Have you stayed at a fantastic place there?

Comment and tell us about the places to aspire to visit, or those you dream of returning to.