Missing Leo’s stand in Sant’Ambrogio….

Since Florence (and much of the world in Summer season) is steaming hot, I thought to share a fresh salad recipe and some ideas for using squash blossoms (that aren’t only battering/frying). Not really a creative feat since so simple, but I had a hard time finding inspiration online for non-fried recipes for zucchini flowers so thought I’d share some of mine! Along with a few memories on how these fiori di zucca are treated (and devoured) in Italy.

Ironically, I am typing away from my frigid studio in San Francisco that is roasting at a balmy 54*F and a blaring blanket of clouds. My heater is on. I’m wearing a sweater. Meanwhile, my 6 year old plant Clarence back in my flat in Florence is smoldering under what was today’s 99*F high.

If you’re utterly confused by my location, you may remember I started splitting my time in San Francisco. The pandemic put a little wrench in my life and went into a tailspin. Thankfully now, the Bay Area is a pretty safe bubble to be in (and more enjoyable as everything feels pretty normal), so I’m attempting resume what my life was- a dream between these 2 amazing places vs limbo/purgatory which defined my “quarantine routine” I hope to never return to.

Perhaps this is false optimism (because you know, variants) but I’m happy to finally feel like  Curious Appetite tours are slowly coming back off life support. Those of us in travel have been hard hit, and we’re only now starting to see a path for a corner to turn. Fingers crossed it stays this way and continues on! It feels nice to wake up and not be consumed with existential dread for the first time in the last 18 months!

In all honestly, the existentialist in me feels like COVID-19 was an amuse bouche for climate change fueled disasters on the horizon. Scientists (and nature) have been screaming at us about the colossal threat to our environment and have gone ignored. The fact 1 billion sea creatures cooked to death over the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, should implore us to do more. But it doesn’t. We get mad for a second, virtual signal on social media and then go back to life as usual.

Apart from the little personal update and existential spiral (didn’t you miss me?)back to zucchini blossoms!

Culinaria Bistro in Piazza Tasso makes these fresh filled w/ herby ricotta- also not fried! EAT HERE when in Florence!!!

During my now 15+ year relationship with Italy, which started with my first visit in 2005 then my University studies from 2006, I’ve come to appreciate these flowers off zucchini’s ends. My first memory of them were in Rome as an exchange student. Unforgettable!

A Roman friend took me to Ai Marmi in Trastevere where for the first time, I tasted various old school appetizers, including suppli’ and fried flowers filled stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. My mind was blown. I was in my early 20’s and hadn’t yet developed a taste for these small fish, termed povero pesce in Italian. But I was hooked. (Please someone appreciate what I just did here)

Anytime I saw them on a menu’ in the states, I’d get giddy with joy. But they never ever were remotely the same palatial rollercoaster for the taste buds. But do you ever wonder what their fuss are all about? If you think about it, they don’t have much flavor. You know how they say a significant percentage of taste happens with smell? I wonder if part of that is also with sight.

When I moved to Florence in 2012, I was sorely disappointed to learn how (most) Florentines prepared blossoms. *Just* in a simple batter then fried. Still amazing. But no stretchy cheese or salty anchovies like in Rome. To me, blossoms at the markets are a fixture to the warmer months but are starting to stick on menus nearly year round (how?!) because of demand.

My habits in Florence adapt to my routine in San Francisco. I do my errands by foot or public transport, including getting my weekly shops from the farmer’s markets. And while I miss Leo at the Sant’Ambrogio market (as well as all the other characters who make my heart smile), I keep what they taught me (from cooking tips to picking peak season goods, etc) in the most sincere corners of my sentimental nature when cherry picking my haul.

This is the only corner of my kitchen that gets good light. Missing my S. facing flat in Florence. P.s. that pork is from imported Iberico piggies pastured in CA by Encina Farms.

Recently, I discovered the Clement St. Farmer’s Market in Richmond District and it’s now my Sunday ritual. I used to hop to the Divisidero market but it’s a bit small, and this one instead has a more ample in selection and budget options. Believe me, I am stunned by the cost of food here compared to Italy but I try not to look otherwise I’d go mad. I consider my splurges the what would have normally been diaper dollars for the money pits (children) I don’t have.

I saw a bag of these flowers at one of the stands at the Clement St. market and my nostalgic alarms went off, remembering the last time I had a plate of these fried at one of my favorite restaurants in Florence (Buca del Orafo) and I had to get them. The problem was though, I am always trying to eat lighter at home so stuffing, battering then frying doesn’t fit well with the few jeans I have in my SF wardrobe (left the stretchy stuff in Florence it seems!)

The fried flowers at Buca del Orafo

I googled and came across some obvious healthier ideas like frittata (peep a recipe HERE) and lesser-obvious like a zucchini flower soup (I still want to try this recipe!) or stuffing then baking. But then it came to mind- why not a salad?!

Zucchini Blossom Salad with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and Pistachio 

What you’ll need:

  • Fresh, clean (and still perky) Zucchini flower blossoms
  • Cherry Tomatoes (ideally rainbow, in season and organic)
  • Ricotta (ideally as artisanal as possible from a cheese shop)
  • Whole shelled Pistachios (ideally from Bronte)
  • Thinly sliced white onion (sure shallots could work too!)
  • Specialty vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, sherry or even a berry vinegar)
  • Maldon Salt (I used smoked!)
  • EVOO (I used EXAU’s from my Gourmet Club shop)

My earnest attempts at plating pretty

Directions: Macerate thinly sliced onion with vinegar of choice. Meanwhile, wiggle out the pistils of the flowers from the base (I tried using a set of kitchen tweezers to pull out from inside to keep the blossom intact but I got impatient- how do chefs do those fancy tweezing things?!). Don’t wash otherwise they’ll mush (should already be clean if you buy from a local market) at most, wipe/dust off with a damp paper towel or try plunging in ice water.

Go on to slice small cherry tomatoes in halves or quarters depending on size, add thinly sliced vinegary onions, tear prepared flowers by hand in half and toss all together. Salt and pepper to taste. Add small dollops of ricotta cheese, sprinkle on crushed pistachios (I crush mine in a mortar and pestle) and drizzle EVOO atop. Hit with a splash more of vinegar if needed for additional acid/brightness. Serve with toasted bread.

You can also add in some tinned fish of choice if you’re into ricotta + fish (I like sardines and mussels for example). Micro greens, cucumbers, fresh herbs could also spruce this up!

Sidebar- I can’t stress enough how much ricotta in the states really SUCKS. Can someone please make or import the likes of the buffalo milk ricotta that is other level the Neapolitan deli Forno Maddaloni on Via Gioberti procures? If you are in town look for this you will thank me!

Please get some ricotta with flavor, America! Per carita’…

Other ideas for zucchini flowers!

You can make crostini with ricotta and add flowers! Put basically all of this on a pizza. Make a pasta with summer squash and dress in torn flowers. Stir fries? As part of a lasagna!

Do you buy/cook or prepare dishes with zucchini flowers? Leave some tips of your own in comments!

In your flower power,

Curious Appetite

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