Pittigluzzi, aka. Calabrese Zucchini Flower Fritters
"When I pass a flowering zucchini plant in my garden, my heart skips a beat."
- Gwyneth Paltrow
August is one of my favourite times of year when it comes to food. Why, you ask? Because our access to fresh, seasonal, local produce in August is next-level. When you get produce out of season, especially when it's grown in other countries, it has to be harvested long before it's ripe so that the produce can survive the trip to your local grocery store before it starts to rot. But in August, a ton of the produce we have access to is from surrounding areas which means that it was harvested more recently, has less distance to travel and, as such, is often allowed to ripen on the plant a little longer before being plucked (which makes it taste way better). Plus, when a specific vegetable is "in season" it means that it's ready to be harvested all over the province, which means that: 1. a lot of that specific vegetable is available at the same time and 2. that people are trying to sell as much as possible before it all goes bad. The result of this is that seasonal produce is priced much lower than it would be if you were buying it out of season. In summary, eating seasonally adds up to some crazy delicious, really cheap vegetables that simultaneously serves to support local farmers and, thus, the local economy. Win-win-win!
The variety of vegetables that are in season right now is staggering, but the vegetable I'm most excited about come July/August is zucchini. Zucchini flowers, specifically. If you've never had zucchini flowers, they are gosh darn delicious. Outside of the summer months, however, they are incredibly difficult to find as well as outrageously expensive and, as such, are generally out of reach of the general public for everyday consumption. As of right now, however, they're pretty widely available if you know where to look and will be for the remainder of the month! Italian grocery stores (such as Lady York, Fortino's or Coppa's) are a good bet for reasonably-priced zucchini flowers, but they're also pretty easy to find if you visit farmer's markets, peruse the vendors in Kensington Market and/or pop into upper-end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Eataly. People tend to be intimidated by zucchini flowers, but they're super easy to cook with and really versatile. The addition of sliced zucchini flower petals, for example, make for a delicious twist on a classic Risotto alla Milanese. If you're looking for a gorgeous appetizer, simply remove the pistils, pipe in some flavoured ricotta and serve the stuffed blossoms on top of fresh baguette slices. You can even use raw zucchini flowers to garnish a crudités tray, grilled vegetable tray or summer salad while they simultaneously serve as a tasty addition to all.
The ultimate zucchini flower recipe, though, is my Nonna's recipe for Zucchini flower fritters, aka pittigluzzi (pronounced pee.tea.lee-ewt.sea). My Nonni had a killer garden at their old house with every and every vegetable you could imagine, and we'd wait with bated breath for the zucchini flowers to bloom so that my Nonna would make these delicious, bite-sized treats with their subtle, undeniably summary flavour. These zucchini flower fritters are basically foolproof, require minimal prep, don't call for much that you wouldn't have around the house on your average day and are an un-intimidating way to cook with zucchini flowers for the first time, so why not give it a shot? The zucchini blossom clock is ticking, after all!
Just one quick thing before you get going on this recipe: for the love of all things good and holy, don't use bad ricotta in this recipe. What's bad ricotta, you ask? If it comes in a plastic tub with a plastic lid at your local grocery store and has an expiry date that comes in the distant future, it's bad. It's going to be oddly flavourless, will have a slightly sandy texture when compared to the good stuff and will basically cost the same for a substantially worse quality,- don't do it. Fresh ricotta is obviously the best choice and can be purchased from International Cheese Co Ltd. on Mulock Drive in Toronto where it'll often still be warm when you grab it. Otherwise, you can get awesome ricotta from Italian grocery stores (see those listed above), Italian bakeries (such as Nino D'Aversa), and Italian butchers (such as Eddystone Meats). The best store-bought brand of ricotta is Santa Lucia, which is also made by International Cheese Co Ltd and is the only kind my Nonna uses to this day.
Note: Find a list of which fruits and vegetables come into season at what time, check out Foodland Ontario's chart here: https://www.ontario.ca/foodland/page/availability-guide
Pittigluzzi, aka Calabrese Zucchini Flower Fritters
Makes: approximately 40 pcs Prep time: 20 mins Total time: 15 minutes
- 25pcs/140g zucchini flowers
- 1 medium-large zucchini (250g)
- Salt to taste
- 6g parsley, washed well in cold water
- 5 xl eggs
- 500g fresh ricotta
- 1/2c water, slightly cool
- 283g all purpose flour
- 85g parmesan cheese, finely grated
- Vegetable oil
1. Remove the stem and pistils from the zucchini flowers by firmly holding the petals with your left hand, grasping the stem with your right hand and pulling (as if you're pulling the tail off of shrimp). This will result in one circular, tube-shaped piece of flower petal. Discard the stems and pistils.
2. Tear the flower into 3-4 strips lengthwise (so that the petals are no longer a whole, circular piece) and then into 2 pieces width-wise (so that the strips are half as long).
3. Wash the zucchini flowers petals well, but gently, in cold water to ensure that there aren't any small bugs or bits of dirt from the garden hiding in any of the petal folds. Spread out the flowers to dry on a clean dishcloth and set aside.
4. Using the large-holed side of a box grater, grate the zucchini into a large bowl. Salt generously to taste and toss the zucchini to ensure that the salt is distributed evenly throughout.
5. Chop the parsley finely and add it to the bowl with the zucchini.
6. Add the eggs, fresh ricotta and water to the bowl and mix well.
7. Add the flour, 1/2 tsp of salt and parmesan cheese to the bowl and mix well.
8. In a deep-sided pan, add 1/2 inch of oil and heat it over medium-high.
9. While you wait for the oil to heat up, line a large baking sheet with a few pieces of paper towel and set it beside the stovetop,- you'll be setting the fritters on the paper towel after removing them from the heat in order to soak up the excess oil. Also have a spider or slotted spoon as well as a tablespoon or a size 40/23.7ml disher set aside on a small plate beside the stovetop so that they are ready to use.
10. When the oil is hot, start dropping in 1.5tbsp/1 flattened disher scoop portions of batter into the oil. make sure to leave an inch or two of space in-between the fritters to allow them to cook properly. If you overcrowd the pan while frying, the heat from the pan will get trapped under the food which will create steam and result in the fritters being soggy and overly greasy when you remove them from the oil.
11. Fry the fritters for 2-3 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown.
12. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon or spider and gently shake off the excess oil before setting the fritters aside on the prepared paper towel-lined tray to cool.
13. Sprinkle the fritters with a bit of extra parmesan cheese and serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!