Pappardelle con ricotta e fiori di zucca

We’re back to writing about zucchini blossoms.  They are just so pretty, fragrant and delicious that we couldn’t stop with just one summer dish, especially when we ran across this recipe for Pappardelle with Ricotta, Zucchini Blossoms and Basil Oil in the New York Times recently.

Usually we write about our own recipes, or those that come from our family and friends in Italy.  Every once in a while, though, a published recipe catches out attention, and we decide to try it.  The ingredient list of this recipe captivated us.  Fresh ricotta, zucchini blossoms and basil oil – what an ingenious combination!  And there isn’t a more delightful pasta to host it than loopy, ribbon-like pappardelle.

Our intuition was correct.  The pasta turned out wonderful – delicate and balanced, perfect for a late-summer dinner.   We made a few changes to the recipe, adding additional zucchini flowers and ricotta, and sautéing the zucchini for longer than called for in the original recipe, as we prefer them more tender.  We chose the sweeter and milder flavor of cow’s milk ricotta over ricotta made from sheep’s milk.  Go out of your way to find high quality fresh ricotta.

The timing of this recipe was perfect, as we have submitted it to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly roundup of pasta dishes prepared by food bloggers around the world.  Presto Pasta Nights was created by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast, and this edition, the 226th, is hosted by Simona of Briciole, whose homemade ricotta and pasta recipes we will attempt the next time we make Pappardelle con ricotta e fiori di zucca.

Ingredients
Serves 4

For the basil oil
1 bunch of basil
1 clove garlic
Zest of a quarter lemon
1/2 C olive oil
Salt and Pepper

For the pasta
1 lb pappardelle
2 small zucchinis
1 cup fresh cow’s milk ricotta
12-18 zucchini blossoms
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Pecorino cheese

Directions

Prepare the basil oil by chopping the basil and mincing the garlic finely, and adding it to the olive oil.  Grate the lemon zest and add it to the oil.  Salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Place a large pot of water on high heat, and while waiting for the water to boil, prepare the zucchini and blossoms.  Slice the zucchini thinly and set aside.  Remove the stems and stamen or pistils (read here for more about zucchini flower gender) and rinse the flowers carefully under water.  Pat dry, and then cut lengthwise into strips.

When the water boils, throw a handful of coarse salt into the pot, and add the pappardelle.  Cook until al dente according to the time specified on the package.  While the pasta cooks, sauté the zucchini slices in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, salting and peppering the zucchini to taste.

Drain the pasta when cooked, retaining 1-2 cups of the cooking water.  Return the pappardelle to the pan with the zucchini slices.  Add the zucchini flowers and the ricotta, and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, adding the pasta’s cooking water as needed to render the ricotta creamy and the zucchini flowers soft.

Serve immediately with a a drizzle of basil oil and a dusting of pecorino cheese on top.


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.