I've never understood why we celebrate New Year's the first of January, if one thinks about it it's September the month when kids go back to school, the holidays end and a new working period begins. September is also the month when if you wear a sweater you feel hot, but if you take it off you feel cold; one moment it's raining, the other the sun seems to shine like never before. This craziness is reflected in food too! In fact, the positive fact is that now there is an abundance of vegetables, some at the end of their season and others just being picked, a feast for us gourmands!
When put in front of such richness, I tend to buy everything and fill my tiny fridge for the week. What caught my attention immediately were the zucchini from Vignole, I had seen them in the field last Saturday and interpreted as a sort of sign, I had to buy them. In Venice, most green grocer's sell packs of 5/6 flowers (quite pricey), but those ones on the zucchini were perfect. My man tried to persuade me that they weren't right, but I am a stubborn beast and could clearly see they were more than fine!
Okay, maybe he was just a little bit right. If I wanted to fry them, for example, the leaves would probably not hold the batter, but I don't want to fry them...I want to bake them!
Yes, I'm taking the shortcut, but I wouldn't call this cheating though, rather I would consider it as a healthier, lighter and easier to digest version of the traditional Italian style stuffed zucchini flowers. The ingredients, anyway, are more or less the same, I'm just replacing mozzarella with ricotta and this because good quality mozzarella loses water (I don't want to buy low moisture mozzarella, it's full of added salts and it has never convinced me), so I opted for ricotta, which, when baked, acquires a sort of outer crust but remains soft inside and anyway, when combined with some grated Parmesan and anchovies, it becomes denser.
I am using cow's milk ricotta, milder and more suited for this dish. The procedure is really simple, you just need to combine the cheese with a couple of chopped anchovies and half handful of grated Parmesan and delicately put into the flowers and then top everything with more Parmesan and something crunchy like breadcrumbs or taralli. The oven will take care of the rest...
With regard to salt, I don't add any, there are enough flavoursome and salty ingredients in there that more salt would only spoil the taste. By the way, did you know that most zucchini flowers we eat are males? Well, maybe it is obvious, but I admit that for me it wasn't. Being a squash, the plant has both female and male and the female flowers are left on the plant until the zucchini start to grow and only a couple of males are spared for the sake of pollination. This just to suggest looking inside the flower and, if you see a stamen, to remove it (it has a slightly bitterish flavour)!
This side dish, overall, takes less than 20 minutes to prepare and is one of the most delicious things ever... so, if you want to indulge in deliciousness, try it and let me know!
STUFFED ZUCCHINI FLOWERS WITH RICOTTA, PARMESAN AND TARALLI
INGREDIENTS (Serves 2)
125 gr fresh ricotta
10/15 gr grated Parmesan
2/3 taralli or breadcrumbs
1) Pre-heat oven at 180°.
2) Gently separate the flower from the zucchini.
3) Roughly chop the anchovies, grate some Parmesan and combine everything in a bowl with 125 gr of ricotta.
4) Crush the taralli, combine with some grated Parmesan and keep aside.
5) Now it's time to take care of the filling: in order not to tear the leaves, help yourself with a teaspoon and delicately stuff the flower. Use your thumb to -gently- press the cheese and anchovy filling. Repeat the same procedure with all the flowers.
6) Grease a baking pan, put the stuffed zucchini flowers and cover them with the taralli and Parmesan mixture and a few drops of olive oil.
7) Bake for 10/15 minutes and grill for the last five.
Perfect with a glass of white wine.