Frying tonight

The golden, orange tipped flowers attached to the end of each courgette (zucchini) are female. The slightly smaller flowers with long, firm stems that grow directly, shooting really, from the main stem of the plant – like the ones in the jug above – are male. Both can be eaten.

At this time of year, when the market stalls in Testaccio are heavy with crates of pale green, blossom tipped zucchini Romano and bunches of their delicate flowers, we often have courgette flowers in salad. Torn into green leaves, or even better, into thin shavings of courgette dressed with olive oil and salt. I like a couple of bright yellow flowers tucked into some warm piazza bianca with milky mozzarella. We often add them – right at the end with a handful of basil – to courgette carbonara or fusilli with buttery courgettes. They are lovely in summer minestrone.

But maybe the nicest and most delicious way to eat courgette flowers, is to grab them by the tail, dip them in batter and fry them in very hot oil until they are crisp and golden.

Until this summer I busied myself with salad and Carbonara and left the dipping and frying to others, most notably the pizzeria Nuovo Mondo on Via Amerigo Vespucci. Once a week, usually Friday or Sunday, we make our familiar pizza pilgrimage; walking past the piazza and Marcello’s flower stall, crossing Via Branca and passing the old Testaccio football club – which is now a depressing betting shop – before turning into via Amerigo Vespucci. Sometime we pit stop at Giolitti for an apertivo; campari for Vincenzo, prosecco for me, before taking a table in our favourite pizzeria. Having worked our way through the menu we’re pretty set in our ways now. Medium birra alla spina and capricciosa for me, and small birra alla spina and marinara for the small Sicilian. And while we wait for the vast, thin crusted pizzas to be dragged from the red hot bowels of the wood oven, while we watch the expert hands of the pizzaroli spinning and shaping, a mozzarella filled rice coquette; suppli for Vincenzo and a deep-fried courgette flower; fiori di zucca for me.

The fiori di zucca at Nuovo Mondo, like those served at most pizzeria and many trattoria in Rome, are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy then dipped in batter and fried. They are quite delicious things usually served on a little white plate on top of a square of brown paper. They should be freshly fried, straight from the hot oil, so tongue scaldingly hot. You wait a few seconds and then grab the crisp golden cocoon with a paper napkin. You bite into the crisp batter which gives way to the soft forgiving flower petals – a nice contrast – and then finally a soft pool of anchovy infused mozzarella. For the fish and cheese together dubious among you I suggest you try these.

But as much as I adore the fiori di zucca at Nuovo Mondo and our other Roman haunts, the best fried courgette flowers I’ve ever eaten were in Puglia, during that hot, humid and delicious midnight feast at the Masseria. We were presented with a vast platter of golden cocoons, some were filled with mozzarella, other with ricotta I think, but the nicest were the simplest. The male flowers on long elegant stems just so, dipped in the lightest, batter and fried. Crisp and golden on the outside the batter puffed with pride, soft and forgiving within. The secret, the cook willingly – so willingly it was rather surprising after all the secret recipe moments – told us, was beaten egg whites folded into the flour, water and olive oil batter.

I blame Nuovo Mondo for my courgette flower frying procrastination, but then last week just before going to London, in the midst of much fried anchovy experimentation I decided it was time. In the absence of any real recipe or exact quantities, I anticipated lots of experimenting. But things were much simpler than expected.  It turns out that my basic batter recipe – 200ml warm water, 100g plain flour and 2 tbsp of olive oil – with the addition of two stiffy beaten egg whites is a pretty damn marvelous courgette flower batter. Delicate and light. But not too light, you want some body and substance. I have repeated this tasty excercise twice more, just to make sure it wasn’t a fantastic fluke.

It’s really important you allow the batter a nice long rest – at least two hours in the fridge (I also add a couple of ice cubes) before folding in the beaten egg whites. Oh, and it’s important you beat the egg whites until they are so stiff you can invert the bowl over your head – my sous chef does this. Once you have added the egg white, dip and then fry the courgette flowers immediately.

On a practical note remember to wash the flowers very carefully, they will probably be providing a pretty home for lots of little insects. Dry them gently with a soft clean cloth and remove the pistils from female flowers, and stamens from the male flowers.

The male flower is perfect because the stem provides a tail with which you can hold to dip the flower in the batter and then lower it gently into the pan. Make sure you coat each flower generously with batter. Fry in small batches, allowing the batter covered flowers to bob around happily, you may need to nudge them with a wooden fork so they cook evenly. Once they are a beautiful golden colour, lift them out using a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with kitchen towel or brown paper. Sprinkle with little coarse salt and serve immediately.

If your eggs are large you will probably only need one.

Fried courgette flowers (fiori di zucca)

  • 15 courgette flowers
  • 200ml warm water
  • 100g plain flour (I used Italian 00)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 egg whites beaten until they form stiff peaks
  • vegetable oil for frying

Wash the zucchini/courgette flowers carefully and remove the pistils from female flowers and stamens from the male flowers. Pat them dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Using a balloon whisk mix the warm water and flour and then add the olive oil, it will have the consistency of single cream. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours – you can add a couple of icecubes.

Whisk the eggs whites until they form stiff peaks. The whites should be so stiff you should be able to invert the bowl over your head.

Using a metal spoon gently fold the whites into the batter. Add a pinch of salt.

Heat some vegetable oil to 160-180C in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan (but no more than half full). Test the oil by dropping a little batter into the oil. If it browns after a minute or so then it’s ready.

Working in small batches dip the flowers in the batter and then gently lower them into a pan. Allow the batter covered flowers to bob around happily, you may need to nudge them with a fork so they cook evenly.

Once they are a beautiful golden colour, lift them our with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with kitchen towel or brown paper. Sprinkle with little coarse salt and serve immediately with prosecco.



Filed under antipasti, food, Rachel's Diary, recipes, vegetables

64 responses to “Frying tonight

  1. Lovely, lovely. I had no idea about the male/female thing.

  2. Beautiful. We have been to Rome only twice; and on our last trip a couple of years ago in early fall, zucchini blossoms were piled high in all the markets.
    We enjoyed these fried beauties quite often that trip– usually with a glass of chilled Frascati. I love your addition of beaten egg whites–particularly the image of Vincenzo holding the bowl upside down over his head!

    • rachel

      With frascati – perfect. You noticed the photo link – thats because you read so carefully I think, which I appreciate. Yes, the egg whites are great, they make the batter so much lighter.

  3. So perfect. and makes me long for evenings at pizzerias in Rome.

  4. Oh this post makes me so happy! These are my absolute favorite! Without a doubt, I would say these are the best part of the summer. Great post!

  5. lo

    Oh! There are few things I love more than a fried squash blossom… such a seasonal delight. And you’ve given some amazing tips as well. Thx.

    • rachel

      A seasonal delight indeed, and I like the fact somthing so fragile and beautiful is then so sultry, crisp and delicious

  6. I recently had these tasty flowers stuffed with ricotta THEN fried…heavenly…

  7. Such a lovely description, Rachel. The first time I saw fiori di zucca was somewhere in Trastevere. It was September, several years ago. I just recall thinking they were such an interesting item. I know I ate at least one, maybe two (three?). Now I see zucchini (courgette) blossoms (flowers) everywhere. They are usually stuffed. I like your version, simply dipped in a light batter and fried. They seem perfect. Now to find some male flowers on long elegant stems. Ah, yes.

    • rachel

      I wonder where in trastevere – we’re just across the river and both work there. And yes, even though I love stuffed courgette flowers, simple is best. I might make the almond cake today!

      • Gosh, I have no idea where we were. It was 2003. I just recall being outside and on a busier street, not one of the narrow winding streets…and I think it was a pizzeria. I am loving this almond cake! It’s so simple and perfect. I eat mine plain, no berries or cream or anything, just the cake. Enjoy.

  8. Val

    I have to look out for courgette flowers at the farmers market. Your post has me inspired and craving a bite into the crispy soft depths of one.

    I’ve said this before, you’re writing style is beautiful. I love to read your posts, regardless of the food.

    • rachel

      I hope you find courgette flowers – I know that in the UK they are hard to find, not because they aren’t grown (because they are) but because they are so delicate and hard to store and transport even the shortest distance. Happy hunting.
      Oh, and thank you.

  9. Tilly

    Rachel, Wonderful reading. Made me hungry for Italy on a hot, uncomfortable day in London. I need no convincing that the mozzarella-anchovy combo is utterly delectable – I only wish I was eating a battered plateful for lunch. Tilly

    • rachel

      A bit of a hot uncomfortable day here it must be said, not really frying weather, but it’s never too hot for a fiori di zucca. Yes and plate of these and ice cream to follow.

  10. I have had these crunchy flavourful snacks on numerous occasions…however, never yet in my very own kitchen. My Nonno would make the best ones and now my mother-in-law took over. Until I’m spoiled by her…I decided to make an exchange with what I do best…desserts ;o)

    I enjoyed your post tremendously and your photos are a great complement to it.

    Flavourful wishes,

  11. Last summer, I was given a bag of those golden wonders, which I stuffed with herbed ricotta, and fried, tempura fashion. But I think that your batter seems much better—puffier! If I get my hands on more flowers, (not as available here as in your neighborhood!) I will try your simple, elegant way.

    • rachel

      Your herbed ricotta sounds great. I do like the simple way, but to be honest I didn’t stuff them beacause I thought it was best to start with the most basic recipe and then, as I get more confident with my batter and frying, start stuffing. The batter is terrific and yes, lovely and puffy. So puffy infact, Vin suggested just one egg white next time. I suggest experimenting.

  12. Dea

    Hi Rachel,
    hope you’re having a nice summer.
    I love zucchini flowers, and they’re so good fried.
    A japanese friend once told me that the secret to extra crispy frying is to use ice cold sparkling water in the batter. The impact of the cold batter with the hot oil gives extra crispiness. I don’t fry much…but I have tried it and its true.
    Have a fantastic week and thanks for the post, it made me hungry 🙂 xo

    • rachel

      Sparkling water, interesting! and yes, very very cold is the key, I chill my batter for a couple of hours and add a couple of icecubes. I tend not to use very cold water to make the batter as I don’t think the flour blends as well. But as you know I am always up for an experiment so will try. Wilting in Rome, need the sea. Hope you both are wellx

  13. Oh, I’ve never tried zucchini flowers but they sound wonderful. I can well understand the procrastination with frying but am so glad you got over it; your presentation is beautiful but my only complaint is that you’ve made me hungry!

  14. amy

    Oh, that is not fair. While we were in italy last month I saw beautiful zucchini with the flowers attached. I ached to cook them, but sadly, we did not have a kitchen.


    • rachel

      They are one of the joys of Rome. Having said that, at this precise, wilting moment, hot, dirty Rome is not very joyful at all.

  15. kbb

    Just picked up some lovely zucchini blossoms at a Toronto farmers market and can’t wait to try the recipe! They will no doubt bring back tastes of freshly fried zucchini flowers we had just outside Cortona last fall. Any idea about conversions of your measurements for us North Americans? I’ve done some googling and think that it translates to just over 3/4 cup of warm water, and about 1/2 cup of flour for the batter. Does this sound about right?

    • rachel

      First thing – I do promise to try and put Cup measurements in the future. I have googled too and that – just over 3/4 cup of warm water, and about 1/2 cup of flour – sounds about right. happy frying.

  16. The crunch, the burnt tongue(s) that would ensue for lack of waiting, the melt in mouth. Yes, very good. Roberto’s mother would love these for their utter simplicity. She hates fussy.

    • rachel

      I hate fussy too (even though I can be very fussy about some things). I have just recovered from a pizza related blister on my tongue. I deserved it though because I’m a greedy gobbler.

  17. kbb

    Perfect! Thanks for the response Rachel. No worries I’ve made a bunch of your recipes before and can usually sort out measurements but wanted to be precise for the batter. Love your blog – reminds me of beautiful visits to Italy eating divine food.

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  19. you are so lucky i’m not your neighbour. if i even had an inclining you were making fried zucchini blossoms (this good too!) i would be over there instantly. with some bubbly in hand, though, so maybe you wouldn’t mind as much.

    i’ve fried blossoms before but never used egg whites. your turned out so fluffy looking which is a great tip for something so delicate!

    • rachel

      I wish you were my neighbour ! As for the egg whites, yes they are a revelation. the batter is light and lovely. I suggest experimenting with one and then two eggs whites to see which works best for you.

  20. rachel,

    I’m so excited about this! It’s been raining like crazy in Chicago and then also lots of hot sun. Strange. But it means that my little garden is BOOMING! And my two zucchini plants have literally taken over my garden.

    I’ve noticed a ton of zucchini flowers (only a few tiny zucchini so far that I haven’t picked yet) and I knew I had heard about how you can eat them.

    I’m going right outside to pick them all and try this as soon as I finish this comment.

    THANK YOU! This looks so delicious. I’ll let you know how they come out!

    • rachel

      Great and yes, please, let me know. You have a garden and whats more it’s blooming – lovely, lucky you. I now have garden envy.

  21. Rachel, This is one of your most gorgeous and inspiring posts yet. My mother-in-law just made these for me this weekend in Tuscany for the first time. Can’t wait to try it myself, but now that I’m back in NYC need to track them down. How long are fiori di zucca in season over there?

    • rachel

      I suppose the true season will finish mid August – but then our seasons are all a bit twisted now. I hope you can find them in New york, let me know if you do and I will make a note for other NY readers.
      This time last year I was in Tuscany and Umbria – choke.

  22. I’m probably repeating someone here, but those look so perfectly cooked. It’s incredibly tempting! My plants just started blooming. Guess I’ll have to get to work if I want some of that…

    • rachel

      Another person with a garden with zucchini. I am feeling very cramped and envious all of a sudden in our tiny flat with no space (well a communal balcony walkway but that hardly counts). Yes get working. If you have lots you can experiment with stuffing them too…let me know.

  23. Well, I feel bad saying this, but I ruined a few little blossoms yesterday.
    I noticed that there were only a few that were *not* attached to budding zucchini. I was afraid to pick the ones that were attached.
    So I picked 3 that were not….then I hemmed and hawed at only making batter for 3. Then I was invited to have drinks in my neighbor’s yard….I went and then I came home to 3 wilted little blossoms on my counter. 😦
    Should I wait for the zucchini to get bigger and then pick the flowers when I pick the zucchini?

    • rachel

      Ok little clove you need good advice. Now I don’t have a garden or grow zucchini. I will call my friend and E mail you. I do know the female flowers on the zucchini themselves wither very quickly once you have removed them. The males one will keep for a day in a jug of water like flowers. More advice coming.

  24. Lydia

    Found you on Freshly Pressed today and I think I’ve fallen in love. My husband will be OK with it, though, since it involves cooking.

    I’ve only had fried zucchini flowers once (when I was in Rome) and I’ve dreamt of making them ever since. But alas, small town Canadian markets don’t sell that sort of thing. I’ll have to plant some zucchini next year simply for the flowers.

    Love your writing and photos. I’m very envious of your living in Rome. I hope to take my boys when they’re a bit older.

    • rachel

      I’ve heard that growing zucchini is pretty straightforward – I’d like to one day. We just need a garden!
      Hope you bring your boys to Rome one day.

  25. Rachel, I tweeted about this, too a week or two ago, but now have to write it here, as I am planning to do it again tonite for Italian friends – I used your batter for bacala fritti and they were the best I ever had (not only made!). Complimenti!

    • rachel

      So glad – such a compliment coming from you ! grazie to that formidable signora in Puglia !

      • yes, thanks to the pugliese signora, too. I had 6 very food oriented Italians ooh and ahh last night – and none guessed it was egg whites in the batter.

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  27. Denise Blackman

    Just found your blog and will be back for sure! I took a cooking class a few years ago in Rome and we made fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and yes, egg whites in the batter. So crispy and light. Planted 3 zucchini plants last year but we had a bad summer here in Seattle and I got 1 zucchini in august! I will try again this year. Thanks for the great post!

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  31. Kris

    “The whites should be so stiff you should be able to invert the bowl over your head.” I’ve just discovered your blog. Your recipes are wonderful and your writing is a joy.

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  35. So beautiful and packed with really useful information. Thank you for bringing some of Rome to me. Sophie

  36. M E Cheshier

    Oh my, this looks amazing

  37. This looks so yummy, I really like your blog and have nominated you for the Infinity Dream Awards. Don’t worry if you don’t want to participate. Check it out here

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