When the seasons change in Tuscany it happens with a bang. In the case of autumn, quite literally. Every year on August 31 we are treated to a thunderstorm which sends cool winds down the valley on September 1, shushing the leaves from the trees.
This week it was the turn of spring. Overnight the April showers stopped and someone flipped the switch that activates the cricket soundtrack. The fields have been sprayed with buttercups to order, and my irises are waving their purple flags saying ‘Hooray it’s spring!’
At lunchtime today, I spent half an hour sitting on the terrace, eyes closed listening to my favourite piece of classical music: The Birdsong Symphony by Mother Nature. A coloratura lark showed off her voice to a chorus of warblers and jays with the cuckoo’s metronome beating time.
As the temperatures reached 28°C—82°F for those that prefer—I decided that we should have an aperitivo outside before dinner to mark the transition between work time and my time.
Hummus is not very Italian, but we are almost in the middle of the Mediterranean here, so I think I’m allowed. And all the ingredients, bar the sesame seeds, are grown in the region. Chickpeas are a particular local staple, often replacing beans in winter soups. It’s surprisingly easy to mix up a batch: garlic, chickpeas, tahini (if you can get it), lemon juice, and salt, blended in a mixer. Then introduce a fine thread of gold-green olive oil while mixing, to weave it all together. I served it with grissini (breadsticks).
But the main event was fried zucchini (courgette) flowers. They have just come into season in the south of Italy and in a couple of months I’ll have my own supply. I decided to serve them in the traditional manner, concealing some fresh mozzarella, and deep fried in a tempura batter. Accompanied by a chilled bottle of Est! Est!! Est!!! it was an excellent opening to the outdoor dining season, which will last until the storm on August 31.
Fiori di zucchina fritti farciti con mozzarella
Recipe adapted from Antonino Cannavacciuolo
12 zucchini flowers
250g (8 ounces) mozzarella
1 egg white
100g (1 cup) plain flour
50g (1/2 cup) cornflour
250ml (1/2 pint) sparkling mineral water
1 liter (2 pints) peanut oil
1. Clean the zucchini flowers and remove the stamens.
2. Cut the mozzarella into cubes. Dry with kitchen towels and then season with olive oil, salt, and black pepper.
3. Stuff the flowers with the cheese.
4. Beat the egg white and add the flour and cornflour mixing until incorporated.
5. Add the water little by little.
6. Dust the zucchini flowers with flour and then dip in the batter. Fry them in the oil at 180-190°C (355-375°F) until golden brown.
7. Dry on kitchen towels, sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve.