For every zucchini grown, there is a beautiful saffron flower. Unfortunately in many countries this is allowed to die and never gets seen: in Italy, they are picked and eaten as a delicacy in themselves.
The first time I ever ate zucchini flowers was in a restaurant in Florence. It was up a side street from the Cathedral and didn’t look anything special: wooden tables, no tablecloths but plain oblongs of brown paper on which, at the end of the meal the waiter would write down what you had eaten and add it up as the bill. Zucchini flowers fried in batter was listed as a contorno or vegetable side and we ordered it not imagining what was to come.
The waiter presented us with the largest bowl of zucchini flowers I had ever or have seen ever since, each perfectly crunchy and filled with an extraordinary buttery flavour and fondant texture. I can’t remember what the main dish was as it was outshone by these little sun-coloured flowers. I’ve been hooked ever since.
We have eight zucchini plants growing in the vegetable patch at La Madera, which at this time of year provide us with an almost unmanageable number of flowers. I developed this recipe a couple of weeks ago to take to a pool party at a friend’s house where it went down so well I just had to make it again.
To prepare the zucchini flowers, first wash them thoroughly in running water and pat dry on kitchen paper. Then peel away the green tendrils by the base of the flower, gently open the petals and remove the yellow stamen. Then they are good to go.
We enjoyed this torta with a beautiful bottle of white wine which I will be writing about later, so stay tuned. Buon appetito!
Torta ai fiori di zucca
Preparation time: 30 mins
Rest time: 2 hrs
Cooking time: 40 mins
Total time: 3 hrs 10 mins
For the pastry case:
250g (2 cups) plain flour
125g (1/2 cup) butter
a pinch of salt
100g (3/4 cup) water
For the filling:
extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 small egg plant, diced
8 zucchini flowers
150g (3/4 cup) parmesan cheese, grated
150ml (2/3 cup) milk
150ml (2/3 cup) single cream
salt and pepper to taste
Make the pastry case:
- Rub the flour, butter, and salt together in a bowl with your fingers until they have the consistency of breadcrumbs.
- Add the egg and mix together.
- Add as much water as you need to bring the mixture together into a dough.
- Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Roll the pastry out and use it to line a 26 cm (10 inch) patisserie ring or flan dish. Prick the base with a fork.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Line the case with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 15 minutes at 180° C (355° F). Remove the beans and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Remove from the patisserie ring and allow to cool completely.
Make the filling:
- Cut the onion in half and cut into thin slices.
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and a large pinch of salt and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes or until golden. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
- Add another two tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the diced egg plant and another pinch of salt. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant has turned a uniform grey colour. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.
- When the pastry case is cool, fill the bottom with parmesan cheese. Then spread the onion on top followed by the egg plant.
- Arrange the zucchini flowers on top to make a nice pattern.
- Place the milk, cream, and eggs in a measuring jug. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Whisk the mixture until the eggs have been incorporated.
- Pour the milk, cream, and egg mixture into the pastry case being careful to fill it evenly.
- Place in the oven and bake at 180° C (355° F). for 35-40 minutes. Serve hot or cold.