Blossoming affair: Tender zucchini bloooms, fried with melting mozzarella, are certain to be love at first bite

Zucchini blossoms are a popular delicacy throughout Italy, but they are relatively unknown in this area. Most farmers discard them without giving it a second thought — or did discard them, until chef owner Gianfranco Loreti of Ristorante Ciao decided to feature them as a special item on his menu.

Loreti has found a way to buy them directly from a farmer in Immokalee. He serves them, at his downtown Naples restaurant during October.

“They aren’t cheap. They want a dollar for each blossom. But they are worth it,” he says, gently picking up a flower from its tray.

Zucchini plants make two flowers: a female and a male. Only the non-fruit-bearing male flowers are served as a delicacy; the females produce what later on will become the zucchini itself. The blossoms have a bright and intense orange golden hue, an almost impalpable texture and a mild, sweet zucchini flavor. As with many delicacies, they are available only for a short period of time each year.

In Southwest Florida, that time is now. Born and raised in a small town near Rome, Loreti grew up eating zucchini blossoms cooked in many different ways. Stuffed. Deep fried. With spaghetti and shrimp. In a frittata. With risotto. The possibilities are endless and so are the recipes.

In many seaside towns throughout Italy the flowers are stuffed with ricotta and anchovies, but Loreti likes to stuff his with fresh mozzarella and sometimes a little spinach, as to not overpower the delicate flavor of the blossoms. His zucchini blossom appetizer ($10) features five plump fried flowers served over a bed of marinara sauce with a side of fresh chopped tomatoes, onions and basil.

A day trip to Immokalee may be be necessary to scout out farms with fresh blossoms to replicate the recipe Loreti graciously shared.

FIORI di ZUCCHINI FRITTI

(Fried zucchini flowers)

Ingredients

24 zucchini flowers

24 small cubes of fresh mozzarella

6 heaping tablespoons flour

1 pinch of salt

1 can of beer

6 cups vegetable oil

Preparation

* Do not wash the flowers, or they will get soggy and impossible to handle. Clean carefully with a damp cloth instead. Gently insert two fingers inside the blossom and remove the pistils. Place a small cube of mozzarella inside each flower.

* Combine flour, and salt in a large bowl. Blend in the beer and mix until a smooth batter forms. Set aside.

* Heat oil in a deep frying pan. Dip each flower into the batter and coat evenly, gently shaking off excess. Immediately drop into the oil. Fry flowers until golden brown.

* Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt. Serve hot.

— Recipe courtesy of Gianfranco Loreti, chef owner of Ristorante Ciao, Naples

MINESTRA ai FIORI di ZUCCHINE

(Zucchini flower soup)

Ingredients

4 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

4 zucchini, finely chopped

11 ounces zucchini flowers, cut into strips

1 cup small pasta, such as orzo or ditalini

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese to serve

Bring the stock to a boil.

Preparation

* Heat the butter and olive oil in another pan, add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.

* Add the zucchini and zucchini flowers and cook for two minutes, then pour into the hot stock. Bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

* Season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle into a soup tureen and serve with Parmesan.

— From “The Silver Spoon,” (Phaidon Press, 2005; $45 list) page 227

PENNETTE WITH ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS AND RICOTTA

Ingredients

Coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

½ pound zucchini, thinly sliced crosswise

1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram

12 large zucchini blossoms, stems and pistils removed

1 pound pennette

9 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (scant 1¼ cup)

Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

* Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

* In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot, reduce heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes. Add zucchini and marjoram; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes more. Stir in zucchini blossoms and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and season with salt.

* Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid, drain pasta. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl. Add zucchini mixture and ricotta; stir to combine. Moisten with pasta cooking liquid, if desired.

* Serve drizzled with oil and sprinkled generously with pepper.

— From www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com

* * *

TRY THEM

* What: Fried Zucchini Blossoms

* Where: Ristorante Ciao, 835 Fourth Ave S., Naples

* Cost: $10 for a zucchini blossom appetizer plate

* Information: 263-3889 or www.ristoranteciao.com

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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