Deep frying has never really been my thing. Deep-fried foods entice me only when I’m truly hungry and in the grip of that “what the hell” feeling one gets when one is, perhaps, a couple of glasses into a good bottle of a crisp, slightly sparkly white. And I’ve always confined my deep-fried food eating to restaurants, preferring to bake or maybe pan-fry or sear potatoes or fish or whatever at home. The few times we’ve tried deep-frying, even once borrowing a relative’s dedicated deep-fryer, we were unimpressed with the results anyway, so why waste all those calories and clean-up, not to mention serious stink, on something that wasn’t even that thrilling?
However, and this is a big however, I recently made fried zucchini blossoms after years of hankering after them. The concept of fried zucchini blossoms appeals to me on a deep level; I’m particularly susceptible to the idea of eating flowers, plus I like the frugality of turning something that would normally just die and fall off the plant into a delicacy. Eating zucchini flowers feels, to me, to be both rarified and unassuming, sophisticated and artless. That actually describes, in general, the kind of cooking I like.
But I’d never done it. I’m not entirely sure why. I suspect I was worried I’d dislike them, despite the enthusiastic commentary I’d read everywhere about them. I was afraid I’d be disappointed by this food that sounded so good but tasted so horrible. Also, there’s a brief window of time in which to gather and cook the female zucchini flowers; pick them too early and their delicate structure won’t withstand frying, but pick them too late and they’ll be huge and tough, or worse, actually decaying. And, lastly, there’s the deep-frying thing. You can bake or shallow fry zucchini flowers, but let’s be real here; deep-frying them just sounds too luscious to pass up.
So, this year, having more time on my hands than normally and a plethora of female zucchini flowers inexplicably growing out of control in the raised bed garden I’d hastily constructed in the tiny backyard at our new house, I thought, screw it. I’ll fry some damn zucchini flowers. Using a recipe that was repeated a couple of places on the internet, starting with Epicurious, which is always a good start, I picked my flowers, pulled out the stamens, washed them really well (including rinsing a bee out after realizing the flowers were, inexplicably, vibrating), filled them with ricotta, basil, and garlic, mixed together my flour, salt, and beer, heated the oil and readied myself. At the last minute, I remembered reading that adding beaten egg whites to the batter would make it fluffier, so I did that too. Keeping the oil at 350 degrees, I dropped them in and watched them turn brown, flipped them over, took them out, sprinkled them with sea salt, and then we ate them, standing up in the kitchen, burning our hands and our mouths, taking sips of a Shocktop lager (husband) and a 2013 Giesen Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (me).
And oh great god in heaven.
There are moments in your life that are “before” and “after”. I genuinely believe that I will now date my life from before I ate fried zucchini blossoms and after. They were, truthfully, that good. The batter was almost tempura-like, fluffy and crisp rather than greasy or too crunchy the way deep-fried batter sometimes is. There was batter left so we fried a few spring onions too, and also ate those standing up. You may be tempted to see what else you have hanging around that could be fried. Go for it. Life is short.
We made them again a week later, on impulse, without the ricotta, because we didn’t have any, and they were just as good without any stuffing – lighter and fluffier, less of an appetizer than a snack.
Here’s the recipe. I recommend you try it.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms
Female zucchini flowers
Ricotta cheese, seasoned with minced garlic, salt and pepper
Fresh basil leaves, chopped
3/4 cup white unbleached flour
Pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup lager
2 eggs, separated
Enough vegetable oil to fill a large, heavy pot to two inches
Digital candy thermometer
Directions: Place on the oil on high heat until it begins to heat, then turn down the heat to medium-high. Be careful when you heat oil like this because it can, occasionally, ignite it you over heat it. Check the temperature; when it reaches 350 Fahrenheit, it is ready to use. Try to keep it at that temperature throughout.
Wash and remove the stamens from the zucchini flowers. Leave a little bit of stem on; this creates a nice little handle for picking them up and actually tastes pretty good too. Mix the seasoned ricotta with the basil flowers. Open the flowers up with your fingers and put a spoonful of ricotta filling in each one. It can be a little messy because the oil will seal it all up.
Once the flowers are prepared, mix the flour with the salt in a large bowl and pour in the beer. Stir it until there are no lumps. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold them into the flour-beer mixture.
Now you need to move fast!
One by one, dip the filled flowers in the batter, coating them thoroughly. Drop them into the oil and try not to let them touch. Do about four or five at a time. Once they start to brown, use long tongs to flip them over. It only takes a few minutes, so watch them very carefully. Once they are brown on both sides, take them out and place them on a paper towel on a rack or plate to drain. Sprinkle with seat salt.
And eat. And eat. Alternate with sips of a crisp white wine or a good light beer.
Make another batch, while reflecting on the ways in which life is good.