Monday 22 August 2011

Floral treats

I’ve always know that courgette flowers were edible but never been quite sure what to do with them. However, following the success of the artichoke fritters (link), and an allotment full of flowering squash, I thought it was high time to make more use of more of the plants. Sifting through various recipe sources, a few golden rules became clear. A stuffing for the flowers shouldn’t be overpowering in flavour, and also needs to cook through quickly – the flowers themselves will deep-fry in one to two minutes. The flowers shouldn’t be overstuffed – they’re fragile and you don’t want them bursting open in the pan. In the end I decided on a herby ricotta mixture and added lemon zest for fragrance. With a delicate combination for the flowers themselves I thought the dish could take a more punchy accompaniment and chopped up a fresh salsa with mint leaves added.

The batter used to coat the stuffed flowers varied quite a bit but all of them leaned towards a tempura-style batter so I decided to use my default tempura batter mix.

The resulting dish was pronounced delicious by everyone. It’s particularly pleasing for the cook as it has that indefinable air of showiness about it, as though you’ve done something very clever. Yet it’s simplicity itself and also given that the flowers are picked more as a by-product of the courgette plants, I get the satisfying feeling that somehow it is food for free.

Deep-fried courgette flowers with fresh minty salsa
Serves 4

8 courgette or squash flowers
Vegetable oil for deep frying

For the stuffing:
250g ricotta
Zest of two lemons
1 tbsp marjoram leaves
2 teasps thyme leaves

For the batter:
125g self-raising flour
100g cornflour
1 teasp vegetable oil
Chilled (ie, from the fridge) sparkling mineral water

For the salsa:
2 large tomatoes
1 sweet Spanish onion
½ teasp salt
Handful mint leaves, chopped fine
Lime juice to taste

Pick flowers that have fully opened and are in perfect condition. You also want to use them as fresh as possible, ideally straight after picking, but they can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for a day or so.
Carefully clip out the stamens in the centre of the flower (I use a pair of manicure scissors with slightly curved blades) and trim the stalk to about an inch or so.
To make the salsa, chop the tomatoes into evenly sized dice. Chop the onion finely. Toss in a bowl with the sweet onion, and mint add the salt and lime juice to taste. Leave for half an hour for the flavours to mingle.
To make the stuffing, finely grate the zest from two lemons and add to the ricotta in a bowl. Strip the thyme leaves from their stalks. Chop the marjoram leaves finely and add both herbs to the ricotta. Mash the ricotta, lemon and herb until it’s smooth and creamy and add a little salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon about a dessertspoon of stuffing into each courgette flower. The amount will vary according to the size of each flower, but you don’t want to overstuff them or they will burst. Gently close the petals over the ricotta mix to make a little parcel out of each one.
To make the batter, put the flour into a large bowl, add a generous pinch of  salt and the vegetable oil, then pour a little sparkling water in a whisk lightly with a fork. Keep pouring and whisking until the batter has the consistency of double cream (not the extra thick kind). At a guess it’s about 200ml of sparkling water. It doesn’t matter if there are a few floury lumps in the mixture.
Pour the vegetable oil into a deep-sided pan and heat to 180 degrees Celsius – ideally using a thermometer. When the right temperature is reached, turn the heat down, and holding the courgette flowers by the stalk, dip and twirl them in the batter one at a time. Then drop into the pan and deep fry each one for about 2-3 minutes until the batter begins to turn golden at the edges. Lift out of the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon and rest on kitchen paper to drain off any excess oil. It’s easiest to fry on batches.
Serve two deep-fried courgette flowers per person, along with the salsa.

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