Reluctantly Fried Zucchini Blossoms
I buy zucchini blossoms exactly once per year, and not because I want to. Sure, they look pretty, and I love the concept of fried zucchini blossoms — crisp and airy, redolent of fields of flowers — but I’ve never been able to deliver on that idea. Instead of light and crunchy my fiori come out oiled and heavy and I vow each year not to bother with them again. But there comes a time each summer when Martha, thinking wistfully of a summer abroad in Italy, insists that we buy a bunch and that I try to cook them.
I am confident to cook most of my farmers market haul without consulting references, but zucchini blossoms send me into panic mode and I dive deep into whatever my miscellaneous Italian cookbooks and the Internet have to tell me. In past years this has yielded up some interesting, if ultimately flawed, techniques. Patricia Wells’s Trattoria recommends making a meringue of a batter with three egg whites (along with flour, water and beer) which makes a nice fluffy coating. Nice and fluffy, that is, until the meringue produced after furious whisking starts to droop, and the battered blossoms with it. Even the first few flowers when the meringue was working were coated in a great puff of a shell that drew most of the attention to itself. I don’t remember on what website I found the recipe for the disaster of the year before that (I think club soda was involved) but if it had been any good, I would have saved it.
With two consecutive years of failure under my belt, I was determined as ever not to buy zucchini blossoms this year. I put up a pretty good fight, having delayed the purchase until late July before Martha finally got her way and we went home with a bundle of bright orange blossoms in our basket. Unsuccessful in my attempt to avoid them altogether, I was at least determined not to repeat the mistakes of the previous years, and by my calculation principal among them was reliance on dubious and finicky recipes. So I scrapped the recipes and went with what I knew in my heart to be true: when it comes to frying vegetables or anything else, you can’t go wrong with beer batter. Mine was made with half a bottle of my home-brewed Irish red ale and enough flour to achieve a thin consistency that was still substantial enough to fully coat the flowers.
It just goes to show you, to paraphrase a wiser man than myself, beer really is the solution to all of life’s problems. These fried blossoms were just what I was after: the batter was crisp but still delicate enough that you could tell you were eating a flower. Light salting after they came out of the oil was all the needed seasoning.
If you have the option, buy zucchini blossoms with long stems. These impart two advantages: the stem serves as a handle allowing you to swirl the flower fully in batter without getting your hand dirty, and this handle also affords you a method for lowering the blossoms into 350°F vegetable oil without burning off your fingerprints. It’s a real win-win.
While I’ve faced substantial doubt in the past about what to fry zucchini blossoms in, there’s never been any question what to dip them in once they are fried. I make aioli (whisk together a mashed clove of garlic, an egg yolk, citrus juice, salt, pepper and a little mustard then slowly whisk in about 3/4 of a cup of oil) thinned by using a higher proportion of lime or lemon juice — the thinness of the sauce is important as the delicate flowers won’t stand up to being dragged through a thick mayo.