Tick tock tick tock. Time is flying by and I just cannot wait to go back to Naples and help mamma Mariolina with the prep for the lunches and dinners we’re going to have during this holiday break! Fiori di zucca ripieni are right at the top of the list as they are a must-have on the Lubrano (my family name) New Year’s Eve table. I feel my heart beat a little bit faster when I think of them.
Nothing like a deep-fried fiore di zucca stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella. Aaaahhh… utter bliss!
I shall explain. I grew up seeing these fiori di zucca and zucchine (both female and male flowers; we don’t like sexism!) given away at the local food market when my mum would go food shopping. Bags and bags were handed out for free. They are just the flowers taken off the zucchine and would otherwise have been thrown away; better to give them as freebies to customers!
On top of that we would have those from the courgettes that grew in our garden, and as always my aunt Carla would share some of hers with my mum.
Now. Imagine the shock I had when I found out not only that was it nearly impossible to find them anywhere but also that when you did– by the grace of God – manage to find them in a big food stall somewhere such as Borough market, they would cost a fortune.
I remember this discovery as one of my darkest days in London! I know I like to be a bit of a drama queen… But this doesn’t change the fact that I now think of fiori di zucca ripieni as little diamonds you can afford every now and then when you really, really want to treat yourself.
It’s a dish that ticks all the boxes: it’s super healthy ;-P as you are technically eating a flower! It’s a universal crowd-pleaser as it is a vegetarian starter and luxurious in so many ways – and therefore perfect to start off the New Year in style. And after the events in 2016 God knows how much we all need a new and glamorous start! Enough said, eh…
On this note I want to take the opportunity to highlight the fact that no matter how harsh 2016 has been for everyone, for me and George it will always be the special year t hatgave us the rare chance to meet his donor Tim and his gorgeous wife Cassie and little star Aldous.
2016 has indeed changed both our lives for good as some outstanding individuals have entered our life and a new strong friendship has been born. So thank you 2016 for such a special gift.
Any recipe I share between now and the end of the year is aimed at giving you ideas and inspiration for your Christmas and New Year menus. Although the traditional turkey with trimmings is a must, I know from experience that people can be quite adventurous when it comes to canapés.
Fiori di zucca ripieni is a dish that needs to be made, eaten and enjoyed on the go. My favourite memories linked to this recipe are those of co-ordinated chaos, noises and splashes of hot oil coming from the copper pans, my aunt and granny frying dozens of fiori di zucca that would disappear the moment they reached the tray. We children and all the family patriarchs would reach out for a piece or two every time we ‘casually’ walked past the kitchen.
It’s a dish to celebrate with those you love that gives so much pleasure to the tastebuds. It works perfectly as part of a frittura mista that also includes zeppoline di cavolfiore, for example: another classic for Neapolitan Christmas festivities.
Try fiori di zucca ripieni once and you will know what simple but luxurious really means.
- 12-14 courgette or pumpkin flowers
- 200g well drained ricotta (can replace with any other soft/melting cheese)
- 1 medium-sized egg
- a good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
- 40g grated parmesan
- 50g scamorza affumicata, chopped into cubes (can use well drained mozzarella instead)
For the batter
- 100g all-purpose flour
- 180ml cold beer (any lager will do) or fizzy water
- 1 egg white
- Pinch of salt
- About 500ml peanut oil to fry
- Extra salt for sprinkling
- Rosemary for decoration
Rinse the flowers lightly under cold tap water, holding them by the stiff bottom. No water should get into the inside of the flowers.
Gently open them up and take out the pistil and any external tiny leaves. Chop off the stem but leave half a centimetre so it is easy to hold them when dipping them in the batter later on.
Line a plate with some kitchen paper. Place the flowers on the plate where they can drain the excess water and wait until they are dry, or very gently pat them dry.
To prepare the filling
In a cereal bowl add the drained ricotta, the egg, a pinch of salt, pepper and chopped cheese (provola or scamorza are ideal but very well drained mozzarella works, too). Mix well with a fork until you obtain a smooth and compact mixture.
Gently make space in the flower, taking care not to damage them, add a teaspoon of ricotta mixture and seal the flower by gently twisting the ends. Lay them on a large dish.
At this stage add the oil to your small saucepan and start heating it super gently (it needs to reach 180°C: less than this and you will get soggy fiori di zucca, but more than this and your fiori will be pretty much burnt). Basically you want it to be ready by the time your first fiore di zucca is being dipped in the batter.
To prepare the batter
Start preparing the batter, which you will use as soon as it is ready.
Place some water and ice cubes in a large bowl. Put another bowl in the middle of it.
In this one add the flour, then gradually pour the cold beer or fizzy water and mix everything with a fork until you obtain a smooth mixture.
In a separate dish mix the egg white and a pinch of salt energetically with a fork until it gets “foamy”. Incorporate this egg white into the flour and beer batter with a wooden spoon, using a bottom-to-top movement.
Place some kitchen paper on a plate, where you will lay the the cooked fiori di zucca ripieni later.
To deep fry
The oil should be ready by now. Keep the heat on a low/medium level (and increase or decrease if the oil is too hot/not hot enough). One by one, dip the flowers in batter, shaking off the excess, and gently lay them in the oil, no more than 3 at a time.
Cook for a few seconds and flip the flowers with a slotted spoon. Keep flipping them every now and then to make sure they cook evenly (in total it won’t take longer than 2 minutes for each fiore) so they don’t get too dark. They will be ready once they all puffed up and become golden. Transfer to the kitchen paper as you go.
Sprinkle some salt only immediately before serving. Enjoy them hot and eat with no holding back!