Stuffed zucchini flowers

When I was a kid, I would help my nonno in the garden by digging up bucket’s worth of soil from his vegetable patch and dumping them unceremoniously in a tub full of water, seeds and all. No manner of threats or cajoling would dissuade me from this task and eventually all my poor nonno could grow was sage, huge bushes of the herb that were so entrenched in the soil my little fingers couldn’t yank them out by the roots.

Decades later and my gardening skills haven’t improved all that much. I profit from the labours of my FIL’s vegetable garden without contributing anything more than a wish list of the produce I would like him to grow. It was my FIL who introduced me to the sheer novelty of have a fully stocked fruttivendolo in your backyard and the simple delight that is the zucchini flower.

Yum

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Infinitely delicate and paper thin, zucchini flowers taste nothing like their vegetable counterpart. They taste of spring: sweet and dainty and with the softest hint of grass. It’s a strange description for a flower that actually blooms in summer, but their flavour doesn’t pack that summertime punch.

I have never seen zucchini flowers at the supermarket, not here in Italy and definitely not in Australia. It’s hard to pick and sell them in stores because they are so delicate and tend to spoil and bruise at the slightest touch. There are two types, the male flowers grow almost out of nothing, while the female ones spring up attached to the zucchini itself. My mother in law chides me for picking the male ones. She prefers to only eat the female flowers, but I think they’re both equally delicious.

Here in Tuscany, the flowers are battered and fried. It’s hard to imagine of a better way to enjoy them, until now! These stuffed zucchini flowers are not only infinitely healthier, but also absolutely moorish. To be really honest this is my nonna’s ravioli recipe sans the pasta sheets – goodbye carbs, hello swimsuit? 🙂 And another win for me in the lifelong struggle to eat less pasta and more vegetables!

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It can be a pain in the butt to pick out the stamen of each of these flowers before you stuff them, but it’s definitely worth it to fill these gorgeous blossoms with a deliciously cheesy sausage and fennel meatball, especially after you’ve doused it in tomato sauce and baked! Drooling as I type…

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If you can’t get your hands on zucchini flowers, you can most definitely try this recipe with zucchini, sliced in thirds and hollowed out.

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stuffed zucchini flowers

12 zucchini flowers
2 pork and fennel sausages, skins removed
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
250ml tomato passata
1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole, extra
2-3 springs parsley
Freshly grated parmesan, to serve

Carefully peel back the petals and pitch out the pistil from your zucchini flowers. The fresher your flowers are, the easier this will be. Set aside.

To make your stuffing, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat, add your sausage and garlic. Add sausage meat, spread it out evenly in the pan and cook, without stirring, for 5 minutes. Then, using a wooden spoon to break it up, turn the meat over and cook the other side for a few minutes, until browned all over. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the pan and cool.

Preheat oven to 170°C. Place a teaspoon of sausage mixture inside, taking care not to tear the petals of the zucchini flower, then twist tops of petals to enclose. Repeat with remaining zucchini flowers and sausage mixture.

Pour the tomato passata into a shallow baking dish, add the garlic, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.Place the flowers in a single layer, season generously to taste and drizzle with more olive oil. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.

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