Sunday, July 18, 2010

Zucchini flowers (or squash blossoms) stuffed with pesto ricotta

Zucchini flowers, squash blossoms, fiori de zucca... however you prefer to call them is OK by me.

While vacationing in Italy in May 2008 I ate some deliciously prepared "fiori de zucca" at Cafe Perugia restaurant (in the city of Perugia) - stuffed with ricotta cheese and lightly fried in a panko crust.

The distinguished looking gentleman sitting at the table next to me said it was pumpkin flowers, not zucchini flowers - perhaps he thought "pumpkin" was the word for squash and I was thinking that "zucca" was the word for pumpkin. Confusing, I know! Whatever, it doesn't matter. Between his imperfect English and my limited Italian I was not quite understanding because I saw these edible flowers at the tips of zucchini at the Venice market just the week before  (the photo here proves it) - which is why thought I was eating zucchini flowers.

Anyway... I learned that many different types of squash flowers can be eaten - raw or cooked - and they all look pretty similarly. 

When I saw the squash flowers at the Willow Glen San Jose farmer's market and it brought me back to that wonderful dinner we had in Perugia so I bought a bag and made it my project for that evening.

The flowers are delicate and because they were stuffed inside a plastic bag on a hot day the flowers didn't actually look that great.

I don't think they were too old because there were 2 live bees inside the bag. I let them go in my garden hoping they will pollinate the vegetable flowers.

Next I removed the stamens from the inside of the flower. This was a bit time consuming because I had to be careful not to tear the flowers. Luckily I had some long, narrow and pointy shears that allowed me to easily get to the base of the stamens. Then I carefully washed them and let them dry.

While the flowers were drying I mixed some pre-made pesto into some ricotta cheese. I happened to have both ingredients in my fridge so it was quick and easy, and good. How can you go wrong with pesto?

I used a small spoon to stuff the flowers which made it easier and faster to prepare without tearing the flowers.

Beat 1 egg in a small bowl. Also place some panko crumbs in a separate bowl. 

Dip the stuffed flower in the egg and then in the panko crumbs.

Pour a little olive oil in the pan and heat to medium high. Not too much oil because we're not deep frying, just lightly frying.

Cook for about 45-60 seconds on each side. You may need to add more oil along the way if you're cooking many pieces, but remember to let the oil heat up first so you get that nice brown color.

I don't usually serve my first attempt at making something to guests, but I happen to have nice friends coming (including an Italian friend) and they unanimously highly approved. I will definitely try this again!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Easy appetizer: Bite size Caprese salad

A couple of weeks ago my friend Suely hosted a fun brunch with lots of delicious and healthy food.

One of the favorites (by me and others) was this tasty bite size Caprese Salad. I sometimes struggle to find good appetizer recipes that are easy to make, healthy and light, and complement the rest of my meal, so I was happy to come across this. Not only does it fit those criteria but it's also very pretty and looks great on the table.

It's so easy it doesn't even need a recipe but in case you're not seeing the image well, it's basically these three items cut small enough to fit on the toothpick.

1 cherry tomato (sliced in half)
1 small cube of mozarella cheese
1 small piece of fresh basil leaf

No dressing, no salt (and therefore no mess when eating it)... just the fresh taste of the 3 ingredients of the classic Italian salad known as Caprese. It's a keeper and I think I'll be bringing this dish to the upcoming parties I'll be going to later this month.

Just to make sure you drool some more, I thought I'd share a few more pictures of the other appetizers she served.  :-)

Asparagus spears blanched and wrapped in puff pastry before baking. Made by my friend's 12-year old daughter. Such a fun presentation.
Portuguese cheese bread - she made a Brazilian recipe. My first time tasting this and it was delicious! It had a slightly chewy consistency and the inside had lots of air pockets so it wasn't heavy.
Blueberry scones. Another one of my favorites on the table because it was it was only very lightly sweetened so it didn't compete with the natural sweetness of the fresh blueberries. I need to get the recipe!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th! 
Photo by pyrexboy78 of Flickr.
Happy birthday to the USA!

Isn't it strange how people usually say "Happy 4th of July" these days? The name of the holiday has become the name of a date - the 4th of July.

Like Memorial Day it's a day for barbeques at the park or the beach and perhaps some parades, or a weekend getaway or a vacation far away. All of which is wonderful but it seems like over the years we've been putting the meaning of the holidays as a backburner to the fun activities. Other holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day have become more about gift-giving.

Perhaps if we go back to saying "Happy Independence Day", like people did when I was a kid, we would reinforce the meaning of the day, more so than by just saying "Happy 4th of July". By saying the word INDEPENDENCE we reinforce the fact that we're celebrating the independence of our country, the birth of our great nation.

Happy Independence Day!!!