There is one meal that I have every summer, just once or twice usually. Lets be honest, anything fried is usually delicious. Actually, let me backtrack – there is some really bad soggy fried food out there – fried in dodgy oil and using scary ingredients. This recipe takes top-notch, seasonal ingredients and a light batter to make a little plate of scrumptiousness. A way of getting your fried food fix with a little less guilt.
Where we live, you can pick up squash flowers at the farmers market if you keep an eye out. You can, of course grow your own, but unless you have a huge patch of courgettes (zucchini) it is tricky to get enough flowers to make a big batch. And when I have these fritters I want to have plenty of them to get through. I eat them as they are, then follow up with a simple tomato and basil salad to offset some of the batter indulgence.
I first had these in Italy and was lucky enough to watch the cooks make them at the mozzarella farm we stayed at on honeymoon. Yes, my husband is a keeper – he booked me in for a couple of nights at a (very pretty) agriturismo next to a buffalo farm where we had mozzarella made that day for dinner every night. The way to a girl’s heart…
They really are very simple once you’ve made them once and got your head around the frying bit.
The recipe is all very forgiving, I never weigh any of the ingredients when I make it now as I know how the mixture should look. Feel free to play around with the stuffing, I sometimes add grated parmesan to the ricotta. Sometimes some finely shredded prosciutto goes in. Sometimes I use goats cheese. The ladies who made them at the agriturismo stuffed each flower simply with a slice of mozzarella before dipping in the batter.
What is key, is to sprinkle them really well with good salt (Maldon ideally) and a squeeze of lemon before eating them. I serve each person with lemon wedges and their own little bowl of salt when I make them because I’m bossy like that.
12-16 courgette flowers (summer squash flowers)
vegetable oil for frying, around 200ml
350g (12oz) ricotta,, or a mixture of ricotta and soft goats cheese
20 leaves (or so!) basil
zest and juice of a lemon
good pinch chili flakes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
200g (7oz) plain all-purpose flour (I sometimes use spelt)
350ml (1 and a half cups) very cold water (you can use fizzy water if you have it)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
good pinch chili flakes
zest of a lemon
1. Make your stuffing by combining the cheese of your choice (see above) with your chopped herbs, salt and pepper and lemon zest and juice. I usually mash mine together with a fork. This will be easier if your cheese is room temperature. It should look something like this…
2. Make your batter by whisking together your flour, salt, chili and baking powder before slowly adding your cold water. Mix with a whisk until you have the texture of thick cream. The odd lump is fine and, weirdly, will help you get a nice crunchy batter.
3. Start warming your oil over a medium high heat. Use a wide, high sided pan, I like to use my Le Creuset. A high sided frying pan is good, a less wide saucepan will mean you can only cook a few in each batch as otherwise they’ll stick together.
4. While your oil warms, start to stuff your flowers. You can be cheffy and tidy and use a piping bag but I’m never organised enough to use that so I just gently peel one of the flower petals back and use a teaspoon to squish around a tablespoon of the cheese mixture inside each flower. Then I squish the petals back together so that the cheese is enclosed. A little bit of seepage is fine. The cheese should help the petals stick together.
5. Once you have stuffed all your flowers you can test that your oil is hot. I do this by dropping a cube of bread (or a dollop of leftover batter) in, if it sizzles and starts to turn brown pretty quickly you are ready to fry.
6. Set up a production line with a plate of paper towel next to (but not too close!) to your pan of oil, a pair of tongs, a slotted spoon, your bowl of batter and your stuffed flowers. Then, one by one, dip each flower in the batter until well coated and quickly, carefully place into the oil. Try and do this away from you to avoid the fat splashing. I reckon on cooking 4-5 at a time in my pan. Too many and they’ll bring the temperature of the oil down and be soggy, or they’ll stick together. See photo
7. Cook them on one side without moving them until they turn golden and crisp (around 3 minutes), then use your tongs and spoon to gently turn them over and cook them for another couple of minutes on the other side.
8. Set them onto the paper towel to remove excess oil while you cook the next batch.
9. Make sure your friends are ready to eat them while they are fresh and hot – with a squeeze of lemon and salt.