Ricotta filled zucchini flowers and lemony lentils

When I visited my friends Rebecca and Marcus in England last (English) summer, their garden was overflowing with beautiful produce including zucchini flowers.  I was extremely envious.  Delicate zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and lightly fried is classic Italian fare, and a dish that I almost always order if I see on a restaurant menu.  The bright flash of colour from the petals, the sweet, earthy and satisfying crunch of the battered zucchini and the burst of creamy cheese. Deliciousness.

Zucchini flowers

Zucchini flowers (female)

Living in a small, inner-city apartment without a proper garden doesn’t lend itself to having a ready supply of zucchini flowers (a.k.a. squash or courgette blossoms). Although planting an urban balcony herb garden is on my to-do list, it hasn’t quite happened yet.  I don’t often see the blossoms in the supermarket or at markets, and if they are to be found, they are usually extortionately priced. However, most likely due to our early summer weather, they were available this week at a great price and I snapped them up.

Jervis Bay

Hyams beach, Jervis Bay with Barth and his parents

Speaking of warm summery weather, this is how we spent our day on Saturday. A balmy 32C (in spring) in Jervis Bay. We met up with Barth’s parents, as they make their way up the eastern coast in their campervan. A fun weekend, complete with a side trip to Kangaroo Valley, camping, some kayaking and wombats!

Lemony lentils with zucchini flowers

Lemony lentils with zucchini flowers

Back to the food! I decided to fill the flowers in the simple, classic way, because there is no need to over complicate something already so complete.  Instead of coating their deliciousness in a heavy batter, I only lightly dip them in egg and flour and quickly shallow fry them. The flowers are paired with a warm, lemony lentil salad which can be eaten as a main.  You can make them without the lentil salad and serve them instead as a starter with a green salad and fresh tomato salsa.

Lemony lentils with zucchini flowers

Lemony lentils with zucchini flowers

The lentil salad can be made with whatever seasonal herbs and vegetables you have on hand. I used spinach, mushrooms, parsley, cherry tomatoes and radish. I had been planning to make the salad with beluga lentils, however I had run out of these and didn’t manage to make it to the shops yesterday.  My new cookbook Amy Chaplin’s “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well” arrived yesterday, and I was a little bit distracted!  The idea for substituting the beluga lentils with green lentils simmered with garlic and bay leaves came from quickly flicking through its pages while I was supposed to be cooking dinner.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book yet, but my first impressions are that its one that I’ll be constantly referring to – inspiring, wholesome and full of new things to learn.  No doubt, more on this book to follow.

Zucchini flowers

View from above

This recipe serves 3-4 people as a main (account for two zucchini flowers per person).

Ingredients

Lemony lentils

  • 1.5 cups of green or French lentils, rinsed well
  • 4 cloves of garlic (3 whole and 1 finely chopped)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 large flat mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch of English spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 120 g cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 preserved lemon, finely chopped
  • 3-4 radishes, finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Ricotta filled zucchini flowers

  • 6-8 zucchini flowers with baby zucchini attached (two per person)
  • 70-80g ricotta
  • 2 heaped tablespoons of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 long red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of dill, finely chopped
  • 1 free range egg
  • 4 tablespoons of plain flour (or for gluten free, gluten-free cornflour)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil, for cooking

Method

Lemony lentils

  1. Add the lentils to a medium sized saucepan with 3.5 cups of water, 3 cloves of the garlic and bay leaves over medium heat. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are just cooked.  Don’t overcook.  Drain the lentils and run under cold water.  Discard the bay leaves, but set aside the garlic cloves for the salad dressing.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, saute the mushrooms with half of a garlic clove in some olive oil, salt and pepper over medium heat.  Remove from pan and set aside.  In the same frypan, saute the spinach with the other half of the garlic clove in olive oil over medium heat until just wilted. Stir in one tablespoon of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and set aside with the mushrooms.
  3. Using the same frypan, add a splash of olive oil to the pan and add the whole cherry tomatoes over high heat.  Cook for a couple of minutes until the tomatoes are blistered and their skins wrinkled.  Set aside with the mushrooms and spinach.
  4. Make a dressing for the lentils by squishing the lentil cooked garlic cloves with the back of a fork.  Stir in 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, dill and half a teaspoon of salt and whisk with a fork. Season to taste with pepper.
  5. Add the lentils, parsley, preserved lemons, cooked mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes to a bowl and gently mix with the salad dressing.  Top with the radishes and the golden filled zucchini flowers, and serve.

Zucchini flowers

  1. Remove the pistil from the zucchini flower by gently twisting it, and wash the zucchini and flower to remove any bugs.
  2. Prepare the filling by mixing the ricotta, parmesan, chilli, garlic, zest, lemon juice and dill in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Prepare the batter by adding the egg to a shallow bowl with a tablespoon of water and a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and whisking lightly.  Add the flour to a second shallow bowl with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. Once the lentil salad is ready, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large shallow frypan over moderately high heat (approx 0.5cm layer of oil in the pan) until it is hot.
  5. While the oil is heating, add a spoonful of the ricotta mixture into each flower.  Twist the petals lightly to keep the filling in.
  6. Dip each flower with its baby zucchini in the egg mixture, followed by the flour mixture and then shake off any excess flour. Cook in batches for 3-5 minutes, turning regularly, until golden.  The baby zucchinis should be quite tender already, so don’t worry too much about keeping them in contact with the frypan.  Keep the cooked flowers warm while you finish the batch, as they taste much better eaten hot.  Drain on absorbent paper, and serve immediately with the lentils.
Ricotta filled zucchini flowers and lemony lentils thumbnail image Springtime! An old favourite, zucchini flowers filled with lemony ricotta and served with lemony lentils 30min

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