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Filtering by Category: The Garden

Frittelle di fiori di zucchine (Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella)

Rosetta

It is that time of the year again, when my prolific zucchini plants start producing beautiful blossoms. I picked the first ones last week and since I planted six plants I pick lots of zucchini blossoms on a daily basis. So far I have enjoyed them stuffed and fried, one of my favorite way to eat them. In Calabria zucchini blossoms are very popular. In fact you can see from the picture below how they are sold at the market: in beautiful bunches, picked in the morning and brought to market that day.

The most common way to eat them in Calabria is coated in a batter and fried, or mixed in with pasta.  Last year while in Calabria at one of my favorite restaurant, Dattilo, I ate them in spaghetti with clams. They are wonderful in a frittata or on top of pizza. I have a recipe for pizza with stuffed zucchini blossoms in my upcoming cookbook.

If you grow your own zucchini, you will notice that the plant produces two types of blossom, a male and a female. The female blossom is attached to the zucchini and falls off as the fruit matures. The male flower, with the long stem, serves no purpose other than fertilization, so these are the ones you'll want to pick and cook.

I pick the male blossoms early in the morning while they are still open and place them in a glass of water if I plan to use them the same day. When I want to make a dish that requires lots of blossoms, I put them in a plastic bag, blow some air into it, and close it tightly. I then store the bag in the refrigerator upright until I collect enough flowers for the dish.

If you are buying them at the farmers' market, look for flowers that are fresh and perky, and avoid the limp or wilted ones. Once they are closed it is very hard to open them (which you need to do to stuff them) without damaging the flower. You can use closed flowers in dishes where they will be chopped or sliced.

Here are the many ways I cook with zucchini blossoms:

  • Stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy, and coated in a batter and fried;
  • Stuffed with ricotta and fresh herbs and baked;
  • Mixed in at the last minute in a risotto;
  • Tossed with pasta;
  • Cut in strips and added to a frittata;
  • Stuffed with goat cheese on top of pizza.

If you are interested, please join me in my July 10 cooking class and we'll prepare the blossoms picked from my garden with the following recipe:

Frittelle di Fiori di Zucchine

Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella

Batter

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup cold water

Olive oil for frying

12 zucchini blossoms, stems attached if possible

6 ounces whole milk mozzarella

6 salted anchovies filets, cleaned, rinsed and cut in two pieces

For the Batter: Place the flour and salt in a bowl and make a shallow well in the center. Place the beaten egg in the well and mix it into the flour with a fork. Stir in the water, pressing any lumps with the back of the fork to remove. Mix to a consistency that resembles thin pancake batter. When you lift some batter with the fork, it should fall in a ribbon. If the batter is too thick, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. If too thin, add a little more flour. Set aside.

Heat the Oil: Heat about 1 inch of oil in a Dutch oven or frying pan over medium heat until it is hot enough to sizzle the end of a wooden chopstick (about 365 degrees F for olive oil).

Prepare the Blossoms: Just before frying, rinse blossoms, remove the pistil and any insects that might be hiding inside.

Slice the cheese into squares or "logs" small enough to fit deep inside the blossoms so that you can fold over the petals to fully enclose the cheese. Place a piece of anchovy in each blossom along with the cheese cube and fold over the petals to close the opening.

When the oil is hot enough, dip a flower into batter and turn with a large spoon to coat. Using the spoon, transfer the battered blossom to the oil, pouring any batter that accumulates in the bottom of the spoon back atop the frying blossom, making sure it is coated. Fry the blossom on both sides just until the batter is cooked through, about 1 minute total. When done, the batter will be lightly golden, not brown. Drain on paper towels and repeat battering and frying the remaining blossoms 2 or 3 at a time without allowing them to touch each other in the oil. As necessary, regulate the temperature to keep oil at 365 degrees F while frying. Be careful when turning the blossoms as they tend to splatter when any residual water spills into the hot oil.

Serve immediately with a napkin and a salt shaker, if desired. Be careful of the molten cheese inside when you eat these.

Serves 4 (makes 12 blossoms)

Copyright, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

My vegetable garden in May

Rosetta

While I was in Calabria the first week of May, my parents planted tomato plants in my garden for me: 30 San Marzanos, a couple of  Early Girls and few sweet red 100s, which are cherry tomatoes.  The majority of the San Marzanos will end up canned in jars, although we do eat a few in salads and I bring them to use in my cooking classes when they are at their peak. (The tomatoes, not the classes!). All the other tomatoes we eat fresh off the vines. Following the "from scratch" theme of this blog, my parents always start the tomato seedlings from the seeds they harvest from the tomatoes of the previous season.  The original seeds were the ones they brought from Calabria in the 1970s.

This is what the tomatoes looked like a week after they were planted:

My dad also planted zucchini, peppers (both the Italian sweet and the Calabrian hot), eggplants, and Romano beans.  One of his secret is to give each plant a nice drink of  "manure tea".   Yes, you guessed it:  goat manure steeped in water, truly smelly stuff.  He gives each plant about a quart of this tea and it acts like a booster shot.  It is amazing how they take off.

He always places the seeds of the Romano beans directly into the soil in early April and as you can see from the picture below the plants are already on their way up the poles.  My dad always uses old branches to make poles for the beans to climb on.

Here are pictures of the  zucchini, eggplant, cucumber and pepper plants.

I also have a wonderful lettuce bed of mixed baby greens that are thriving:

And right next to the lettuce bed are some beautiful potatoes planted by my 14-year-old son, who loves to grow his own potatoes as his own little project. He put them in the soil back in March and here is a picture of them in May:

I will give you a garden update next month so you can see how everything is progressing.

Piselli Stufati (Peas sautéed with onions)

Rosetta

Today I picked my first large batch of fresh spring peas. My kids ate most of them right off the vines, because the peas are so sweet.  This is one of the vegetables to consider growing in your garden, as it is difficult to find freshly picked peas and there is nothing like the taste. Peas are best eaten right after they are picked.

Look for fresh peas at the farmer's market. Make sure the pea pods are fresh, firm and shiny. Open one and taste the peas. They should be sweet and full of moisture. If they are starchy and tough, don't buy them. They have been sitting too long and the sugar has turned into starch.

Growing up in Calabria, my mother would always fix pasta with fresh peas, cooking the tiny pasta tubes called "ditalini", and adding the peas in the same pot with the pasta towards the end of the cooking. She mixed the drained pasta and peas with a simple tomato sauce. I used to love this dish as a child because a lot of the peas would hide inside the tiny pasta, as if someone had filled the tubes with peas.

Another way I enjoy fresh peas is to sauté them with onions and olive oil as a side dish.  It is so simple that you don't even need a recipe, but I will attach one so if you find fresh peas at the farmers market you can try it. Kids love peas prepared this way.

Piselli Stufati

(Peas sautéed with onions)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 large onion or a bunch of spring onions, chopped 1 lb fresh peas shelled 1 ½ teaspoon Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper

In a 12-inch sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat.   Add the chopped onion and sauté over high heat for about 2 minutes until soft.   Add the peas, salt and pepper to taste.

Sauté for 4-5 minutes until peas are tender.

Serves 4 - 6.

Getting my garden ready for summer planting

Rosetta

"U crupu ad acqua fadi mirachili di santi."("Manure and water make saints' miracles") - My parents' saying

My parents and I have just returned from our yearly goat manure collection trip. We always go to the same local ranch to pick up enough goat manure for the summer planting. The manure has been "collecting" all year in the goats' pens, so thank goodness it doesn't smell like the manure at the nursery store. It is actually already composted and compacted. To harvest it, we go to the pens, my dad breaks up the clods of manure and shovels them into a bag my mom holds. Here are the little goats  that produced our manure, which in turn will produce the best organic vegetables.

My parents always used goat manure back in Calabria and they searched the San Francisco Bay Area for many years until they found a rancher who had goats. The manure is free, because the farmer is more than happy for us to take it away.

The nutrients in the manure of cows, rabbits, chickens, sheep, horses, or goats will do wonders for your vegetable garden. If you happen to know of a farm or ranch that has animals and you don't mind harvesting their manure, you're in luck. Otherwise, go to the nursery and buy it already packaged.  Don't worry; the store-bought stuff works just as well.  Mix it in the soil at least three weeks before planting your vegetables. Don't be stingy. My dad spreads two inches of manure over the soil and mixes it in well. If you have a small garden or a few raised beds or planters, a few bags will do.

So...how much manure did we pick up? Well, it was a total of 16 bags of about 50 pounds each, because that's all that would fit in my truck.  This will be enough for my garden and my parents'.

My dad will work in the manure with his "zappa," an Italian hoe. This is his only gardening tool. He uses it to do everything: turn the soil, mix in the manure, make trenches for planting the vegetables, and till the soil. He brought his zappa from Calabria when we moved here, because he knew he would not find one in California.

Scarole e Fagioli (Escarole and Beans)

Rosetta

My cooking students always ask me this question. This time of the year is a transition period. I am finishing picking winter vegetables such as escarole, chicory and cabbage.

I also pick borage, which grows wild in my garden. The broccoli rabe is gone.

I had enough escarole last night to make scarole e fagioli, one of my favorite comfort foods, with dried borlotti beans from the garden. You can probably still find escarole at your farmers' market. But the soup is even better with chicory.

The other vegetables not quite ready to be picked are fava beans, peas and sweet red Italian onions from Tropea, a resort town on the west coast of Calabria. (Yes, I actually brought the onion seeds from there.)

And of course my herb garden has beautiful Italian parsley, rosemary, oregano and thyme that thrive all year long.

My dad just started the seeds for the tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. I will share some of his gardening secrets when he starts preparing the dirt.

And here is my recipe for scarole e fagioli

Scarole e Fagioli

Escarole and Bean Soup

In Calabria, my mother would make this winter minestra (thick soup) with wild greens, such as the dandelions and various chicories that grew everywhere. Nowadays we make the dish with escarole from our garden.

Typical of Calabrian minestre, this soup is thick, not brothy, with just enough liquid to bathe the beans and vegetables. The escarole should be very soft, offering no resistance. We leave the whole hot peppers in the soup and enjoy them in small bites.

1/2 pound dried cranberry (borlotti) beans, or dried cannellini beans or about 3 cups of cooked beans Kosher salt 2 pounds escarole, both ribs and leaves 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 2 to 3 small dried hot red peppers, tops removed and slit 3 cloves garlic, halved

Soak the beans 8 to 12 hours in water to cover generously. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, then adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook uncovered until the beans are tender, 45 minutes or more, depending on their age. Season the bean broth with salt, stirring well to dissolve the salt, then let the beans cool in the broth. You should have about 3 cups cooked beans. You can prepare the beans to this point a day or two ahead, cover, and refrigerate.

Stack the escarole leaves and cut crosswise at 2-inch intervals. Fill an 8-quart pot half full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole, pushing it down into the water. Cook until the white ribs are very tender, about 5 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Taste a piece to check for doneness. Drain and return the escarole to a clean pot. Add the olive oil, hot peppers, garlic, 3/4 cup bean broth and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat and simmer briskly for 3 minutes. Add the beans, leaving the bean broth behind, and simmer 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot or warm

Serves 6