Frittata con i fiori di zucca

Squash Blossom Frittata

The days are becoming shorter, the nights cooler.  The highest leaves on the tall maple in our front yard are turning gold, orange and red.  Even though these early fall days are warm and sunny yet, there is no mistaking that fall is here.  Our lives have become busier, too.  Gone are the long, lazy summer days.  They’ve been replaced with school, homework, and a faster pace of life.

As seasons change, so do our cooking and eating habits.  We cook more on weekends, and freeze sauces, soups and vegetables for easy reheating during weeknights.  We bake our own bread on Sundays, and we aim for genuine, healthy meals that are also simple and quick to prepare.

The frittata is just that.  Often referred to as an open-faced omelette, the frittata is a classic Italian dish made from beaten eggs mixed with meat, cheese or vegetables and cooked in a skillet over low heat.  Unlike an omelette, the frittata is not folded in half.  Rather, it is carefully flipped so that it cooks on both sides.

There are countless varieties of frittate (singular – fritatta, plural – fritatte): frittata with zucchini, frittata with asparagus, frittata with artichokes, frittata with sausage, frittata with potatoes, and even frittata with leftover pasta.

We opted for frittata with squash blossoms.  One of our favorite summer foods, we jumped on the occasion to have them one more time before summer’s end.

Ingredients
A dozen eggs
Approximately a dozen squash or zucchini blossoms
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions
Prepare the squash blossoms for cooking by removing their stems and pistils or stamen.  See this previous post on fried zucchini blossoms for specific instructions.  Rinse them gently under water and pat dry.  Slice the blossoms lengthwise into 4 strips.

Heat 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the squash blossoms and sauté over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until they become tender, stirring occasionally.

While the blossoms are cooking, crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them by hand until the yolks and whites are evenly mixed.  Add the Parmigiano, and salt and pepper to taste.  When the blossoms are ready, add them to the egg mixture as well, and mix everything together.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a 12-inch, heavy, non-stick frying pan.  Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook over medium heat for approximately 5-10 minutes.  As the egg cooks, use a spatula to loosen the underside of the frittata from the pan to keep it from sticking.

When the frittata is cooked about 2/3 of the way through, flip it over to allow the other side to cook, as well.  Frittata-flipping is an art that takes some practice to master.  First, use your spatula to be sure that the bottom of the frittata is no sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Then, find a large, flat lid that covers the entire pan.  It is fine if the cover is even larger than the pan.  Holding the lid tightly against the pan, quickly flip the pan over, turning the frittata upside down onto the lid.  Slowly lift the pan up and return it to the stove, and carefully slide the frittata back into the pan, the cooked side up.

For frittata-flipping phobics, there is an alternative – once the frittata is cooked about 2/3 of the way through, place the frittata, pan and all, under a broiler for 2-3 minutes to allow the top to finish cooking.

Once cooked, carefully remove the frittata from the pan and onto a large plate.  Cut it into wedges just like a pizza, and serve with bread.  Frittata can be eaten warm, or at room temperature.  You can even place the frittata between two slices of bread for a delicious sandwich.

Do any of you have a favorite frittata? 
If so, tell us about it, and share your frittata-flipping tips!

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.

Ingredients

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.