Ciao Italia Blog Exclusive: Flower Power

August 3, 2009

Neither rain, nor hail, nor cold, nor Japanese beetles can deter or conquer my zucchini plants!

No matter what mother nature throws at them, they are survivors. They should have their own reality show!

Zucchini seems to defy all the forces that are the demise of their fellow plants. They grow at the speed of the internet, and can pack on the pounds, tipping the scales to double digits if you don’t keep watch over them.

So my plan of attack is to pick them young (no longer than 10 inches). These are best just sauteed very quickly with onion in a little olive oil. But, if by some chance you forget to harvest them when small, the larger sizes are good just sliced and placed on the grill, or they can be stuffed with ground meat and baked.

The jumbos, which will have lots of seeds, are best thrown on the compost heap. Or, if you must, rush them to your neighbors, and with a joyous grin on your face, tell them that they make the best zucchini soup!

But, for me, the most fun when cooking zucchini is to harvest the female plants because they sport those gorgeous yellow flowers that Italians love to stuff or deep fry. I usually pick those early in the day, when the flowers are wide open.

They are delicate, so it is best to handle them with care. Rinse them and gently pat them dry. Spread the flowers open to remove the pistils, then conjure up all kinds of things for stuffing them like cooked rice, breadcrumbs, and cheese, chopped zucchini and tomato… the list is endless — just like the number of zucchini plants that will keep giving until they literally wither on the vine.

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Serves 4

8 zucchini flowers, center pistils removed and discarded
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkline on top
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt to taste
Grinding black pepper
1 can prepared tomato sauce

Rinse the flowers, pat dry and set aside.
Grease a 9 inch casserole dish with butter and set aside.
In a bowl, combine the cheeses, egg, parsley, salt and pepper.
Carefully open up each flower and place some of the mixture in the center of each.
Spoon the tomato sauce over the flowers and sprinkle on additional cheese.
Bake uncovered at 350F for 25-30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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