It’s official- my favorite summer vegetable are zucchini and especially their flowers. In Florence they seem to be around most of the year as I see them in the fall and in the spring. I wonder if there are some greenhouses responsible for year-round zucchini (or courgette) but the natural summer ones generously blossomed by blistering heat are the ones I tend to fawn over. Before any Italian puts a bounty on my head, zucchini are “zucchine” in Italian but since I speak American English I’ll still refer to them as “zucchini.”
I lead market food tours in Florence and one of the first things I point out to people is to take note of the zucchini flowers in the markets, and the visible quality of the produce in general.Most of the stands in the markets are vendors (not growers). A tell-tale sign of the vendors vs the growers are how wilted their zucchini flowers are. The zucchini left in storage for days unlike being picked the day before. Nice fresh plucked ones could also be from a very sharp vendor with good connections.
Actually, flowers grow on all sorts of squash! But at the market, I notice this particular varietal where the flowers bloom from. The zucchini (variety: fiorentino portofino) you find at Sant’Ambrogio market tend to be slightly prickly with valleyed sides, a lighter/brighter shade of green and not deep dark green, smoothed and round. Some guests are surprised to know their flowers are edible and have never seen this type of zucchini.
The blossoms are very fragile and need to be eaten within 1 or 2 days of picking. Which is probably why one would rarely see them in an American produce section since grocery stores tend to pick way too far from both distance and/or ripeness.
In Florence, the most common way you find these beautiful flowers prepared is by dunking them in batter and frying them. You can stuff them with mozzarella and anchovies before battering & frying, and zucchini flowers are ace in a frittata. Since I’m trying to eat lighter these days, I asked my favorite grower, Leo, in the Sant’Ambrogio Market what could be done with flowers besides frying.
In the past, I’ve chopped them raw and throw in my lunch salads or have made lovely risotto with them. Leo gave me a great summer idea I wanted to share with you: zucchini flowers, parsley and gamberi with tagliatelle, spaghetti or cold grain farro.
I didn’t have farro at home, which you find get pre-cooked at the supermarket or most alimentari. I’m also kind of on a diet so pasta was out of the question. So I used a spiralizer to make mock “tagliatelle” from the zucchini stalks and made a sort of “accidental” paleo tagliatelle with this shrimp & zucchini sauté. By the way, paleo is boloney and I have no problems with grains. I do try to limit how many processed carbohydrate products I consume, especially when I’m not on a mission to find the best tortellini in Bologna.
Leo’s Pasta with Shrimp and Zucchini Blossoms (or with Farro)
(This can be used for pasta, rice/risotto, cold cooked grains like farro (spelt) or quinoa, or vegetable-based mock pasta like spiralized zucchini)
Ingredients (serves 2)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or more/less to your liking)
2-3 cloves of chopped garlic
10 zucchini flowers, sliced
160-200 grams fresh, peeled and de-veined small/medium shrimp (or gamberi) ideally from the Sant’Ambrogio or San Lorenzo Market fish mongers. They will peel the shrimp for you. You just need to de-vein.
a few chili flakes
good olive oil (or a mix of olive oil/butter but I insist for this recipe for olive oil)
dry white wine (for cooking)
160grams of cooked tagliatelle, cooked cold grains like farro, couscous or quinoa, or 4 spiraled zucchini lightly pan jumped in olive, garlic and chili flakes (don’t cook too much because they will get watery)
p.s. I will use the term “jump” a lot for tossing ingredients in a pan WITHOUT a spatula but just fancy pan jedi skills.
Get a large pan out on medium-high heat. When warm, add 2 tablespoons good olive oil, add chopped garlic careful not to burn and add half of your chopped parsley and a pinch of salt. After a minute or 2, add a splash of white wine. Then add the sliced flowers and jump a time or 2. After 2-4 minutes when the flowers have cooked down but not completely, add the shrimp and let sizzle. After a minute or 2, add the rest of the parsley and jump the shrimp/flower mix and cook until shrimp are cooked (should only be 5 minutes as shrimp cook very quickly). Finish with salt and pepper.
If you plan to use the idea of the zucchini noodles, cook them SLIGHTLY in a separate pan with a touch of oil or none at all if you have a non-stick pan (which is ceramic or a non-toxic alternative to teflon). I’m assuming you know a spiralizer is needed to make zucchini noodles. When you have your noodles, add them to a large med-high heated pan and jump for 2 minutes max. They will get watery and soggy if you cook them for too long. You want them to still be slightly warm and this just serves to warm them up. Once ready, you can add them to the pan the shrimp/flower sauté was cooking in and jump/drag to incorporate all the oil, herbs and such to stick to the noodles.
You can also just mix in a bowl of cold grains as it makes a fresh summer primo.
You may feel this needs a bit of acid so spritz on some fresh lemon on the finished dish. Sprinkle with salt if needed.
In your flower power,
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