Zucchini Blossom Risotto with Prosecco
A number of years ago I found myself in a small pedestrian-only hamlet on a small Greek island in the sun-baked Agean Sea. The warm, thyme-scented breeze stroked my hair as I wandered up the uneven cobblestoned streets where laughing children smiled their shy smiles and giggled as they passed by on their way to some after-school adventure. As I continued down the street waving tentatively to the locals I happened upon a handwritten menu board outside a quaint taverna with kon the menu. The bait was set and I was lured in. I had spied these lightly battered zucchini flowers all over Greece in the 5 weeks I had been travelling there, but each and every time this elusive seasonal treasure was disappointingly sold out just as they were that day. This was my last week in Greece and I still had yet to try this delicacy.
I was sitting at the taverna to meet Costas who would drive me past the secluded beaches to their home on the other side of the island where I would spend a life-changing 8 days in the company of his wife, noted cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi, exploring the island, the culture and the cuisine with old-friends and new. It was at their cooking school at Keartisanal that we recreated dishes following the seasons. We wandered out to their garden to pick the prized zucchini but much to my delight the elusive zucchini flowers as well. We sat in Aglaia's kitchen and created a crustless zucchini pie, a zucchini studded orzo, zucchini foccacia and the elusive stuffed zucchini flowers lightly battered in a light, airy ouzo flavoured batter. I finally had my first taste of k
For years the flavour of these seasonal treasures has haunted me. No matter how much I tried to convince our local farmers to bring zucchini flowers to the market they eluded me. In early summer when the days started getting longer and lazier and the aroma of grass seemed to linger in the air golden flowers started budding, heralding the birth of new, beautiful zucchini. Copious amounts of zucchini!!! An overwhelming amount of zucchini!
If you haven't figured it out by now, zucchini is one of the most beloved vegetables in Greek, Mexican and Italian cuisine. It won't be zucchini season when I am in Italy this fall, but I can reap the rewards here at home for now. But the true gem, the prized treasure, is the zucchini blossom itself.
When the zucchini harvest is at its peak, there are more zucchini blossoms than one knows what to do with. Zucchini blossoms, are the lily-like flowers of the zucchini plant. These goldenrod coloured flowers, beautifully accented with splashes of green and orange, are a summer delicacy. Most gardeners just ignore the blossoms while waiting for their prized zucchini to grow. If you have ever grown zucchini, you will know how quickly they multiply and so cooking the flowers or blossoms at the beginning of the season is a kind way of slowing down their prolific production. Once a year, there is a rare opportunity to take advantage of this culinary delight and I revel in it.
They can be stuffed with herbed ricotta or feta, battered and fried like fritters, layered in frittatas, or cooked as part of a vegetable mélange. The blossom's flavour is so subtle, so delicate, as to be almost impossible to describe. It is reminiscent of its parent vegetable, yet nothing like it. It is sweet, yet almost imperceptibly so. In other words, you'll just have to try it yourself to know what a blossom tastes like. No matter, they are certainly addictive! It is something you must experience to fully understand.
In my own experience, I look forward to the blossoms and each year scheme to find them. I have haunted the farmer’s markets and market stalls to no avail. Only my neighbors gardens were waiting for me to scoop up the brightly colored treasures. This year the only recourse was to grow my own. As a condo dweller imagine my delight when I was awarded a plot in our neighbourhood community garden. I planted 4 plants just to have access to a multitude of blossoms.
I pick the flowers in the middle of the day, when they are fully open. The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each emergent zucchini. The male flower grows directly on the stem of the zucchini plant on a long stalk, and is slightly smaller than the female. Both flowers are edible and need to be eaten the same day they are picked.
The very first dish I created from my prized zucchini blossoms was of course the Greek recipe from Aglaia Kremezi Zucchini Blossoms with Feta and Mint that I have dreamed of . This year since I had a garden of my own I had an over abundance of blossoms and my second dish was reminiscent of my dreams of Italy with a soothing risotto with just enough colour from the blossoms for this unassuming dish. Plated, the risotto glowed–little flecks of orange, a striking contrast against the white rice. To make this dish even more celebratory I used Prosecco instead of wine. The beautifully light zucchini flower, the acid fruitiness of the Prosecco and the salty Parmiggiano really are a heavenly combination. So raid your garden, or your neighbours garden, and if you try Zucchini Blossom Risotto, you will find yourself plotting ways to get more of these rare delicacies. The season is short so enjoy them while you can...and of course there is plenty of Prosecco left over to continue this celebration of summer!
**Zucchini Blossom Risotto with Prosecco**
based on a recipe from about.com
1-1/2 cups (300 g) Vialone or other short-grained rice
1 quart simmering vegetable or chicken stock
1 small zucchini, cubed
10 zucchini blossoms
1/4 cup Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
1/2 white onion or leeks, minced
1 cup sparkling Prosecco (warmed)
2 walnut-sized chunks of unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
Wash the blossoms gently, removing the stems and pistols, and pat the yellow petals dry. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pot and gently sauté the onion, stirring it with a spoon, until it has begun to turn translucent. Add the cubed zucchini and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the rice and turn to medium high; cook, stirring until the grains have become translucent 3 - 5 minutes. Add half the Prosecco, then lower the heat and begin adding broth a ladle at a time, stirring gently. When the rice is almost done, thinly slice the zucchini petals and stir them in too; check seasoning, stir in the butter and the cheese, and turn off the heat. Let the risotto sit covered for about 30 seconds, then sprinkle the remaining Prosecco over it. Stir again, and it is ready to serve.
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