Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bloomin' Delicious

"Am I the only gardener who grows zucchini for their flowers, not their fruit? I hope not."

Indira Niadoo, The Edible Balcony.

Step 1: Pick flowers. Wash and remove stamens from inside.
From the earliest age and right up into the present, I've always been less than ambivalent about the fruit of the Cucurbit family. Actually, that's not true. Melons and cucumbers I'm pretty happy about but zucchini, pumpkin and squash leave me less than cold. (Don't even get me started on choko.) I quite clearly remember, genuinely gagging and retching as a child when my parents tried to force me to eat roast pumpkin. And whilst I can eat it now without the urge to hurl, I'm still not all that keen on the stuff.

Zucchini, however, are my pet hate. Sure they're easy to grow but they taste bloody awful - how the damn things manage to taste simultaneously bland and utterly nasty has to be one of life's great paradoxes. Last summer was a bumper zucchini year and in the garden there was a glut of zucchini in almost every plot (bar mine). The place was overflowing with prickly plants that were prolific to the point of tiresome. Even those who loved them eventually tired of zucchini slice and in the end people couldn't give the snot-flavoured things away. They were left to bloat to massive size on the rampant vines before being thrown into the compost to rot.

Step 2: Mix Danish fetta, pesto, chopped capers and pepper.
This year people were a little more conservative with their cucurbit plantings, but there were still a considerable number of pumpkin, zuch and squash put into the communal beds. Whilst the pumpkins were spreading their prickle-covered umbrella-sized leaves beneath the fruit trees and the zuch were doing their best to colonize the potato beds, I was travelling through out Mexico for my brother's wedding. And in Mexico, I discovered the one true reason to grow zucchini and their kin - the flowers! I'd tasted (and enjoyed) squash flowers before but I'd always seen them as something of a fancy, fussy, novelty delicacy. However, in Mexico, I discovered that squash and zucchini flowers, or flor de calabaza, are a produce in their own right. Stuffed with cheese, crumbed and fried they appear on most cantina menus, while sauteed they are on offer as a taco filling at the stalls of all good street vendors. And unlike their fruiting bodies, they are freakin' delicious!

Step 3: Stuff flowers then dip into flour, beaten egg, breadcrumbs.
Almost as long standing as my dislike of zucchini, is my crush on the ABC newsreader, Indira Niadoo. Smart, beautiful, calm and professional and yet somehow utterly genuine and charming, Indira is the kind of person belongs at the top of your "if I could invite anyone to dinner" list. And as well as reading the news like a goddess, it turns out she's a dab hand in the kitchen and, more recently, the garden. This Christmas, I bought her beautiful cookbook/garden manual, The Edible Balcony, for my true love. My true love quite likes both gardening and zucchini, so negotiating garden space was always going to a challenge for our future together. On Sunday, however, all that was resolved. Indira enjoys cucurbits more than I do but she has a real appreciation for their blooms and her book includes a delicious sounding and not too tricky recipe for fried zucchini flowers.

Step 4: Chill 'em in fridge for 15 mins or so. Fry 'til golden.
Thus it was that, inspired by Mexico and empowered by Indira, I headed down to the garden on Sunday evening. I didn't know until Indira told me but zucchini and pumpkins produce male and female flowers. The males appear on long stalks while the female blooms perch on the end of a miniature fruit. Indira's recipe called for female flowers but I didn't want to get anyone off side by wiping out the communal harvest of cucurbits so I stuck with the male flowers. I poked around amidst the big prickly leaves and harvested a variety of pumpkin, squash and zucchini. Yesterday, today and tomorrow's big yellow blooms which before long filled my bowl.

And then, I took them home and I stuffed them. Quite Simply. Capers, homemade (garden grown) pesto and creamy Danish fetta were shoved into the depths of each flower and sealed in with a twist of the petals. Then they were crumbed and fried like a batch of summer whiting before being scoffed, hot from the pan, with lemon and aioli (a Lachy special).

Step 4: Devour with aioli, and lemon and something green.

The chef victorious!
And scoffed they were. Gee they were good! They were everything I could have imagined and so much more. The crispy, fried outer coating, the gooey, tasty squish of the filling and the delicious and surprisingly substantial watery crunch of the flowers themselves. It wasn't a case of the flowers providing an inoffensive vessel for the fried breadcrumbly batter and cheesy filling goodness. The flowers themselves were the star of the dish, fresh and delicious in a way that only something from your own garden can be.

As I cut into each salty, crispy, crumb-covered blossom, I thanked the people of Mexico and my favourite Aussie newsreader; for giving me the courage to try my hand at something new in the kitchen, and for finally lifting the curse of the cucurbits and providing me with a reason to grow snotcumbers zucchini.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I made these for my family when I was living in Australia a couple of years ago and they were a huge success too :) However, unlike you, I'm a huge fan of the cucurbit family... I adore melons, zucchini, pumpkin (I could put them in every meal! and the seeds in every salad!) and squash... the only one I find a bit useless is cucumber.. unless it's in raita or tzatziki or something of the sort... mmmm... looks delicious, Lauren :)