This Wednesday, when I was doing my weekly shopping trip to the Union Square Greenmarket, I was kind of surprised to see how much summertime produce was still available. I snapped up blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries to have with my yogurt and granola for breakfast (I’m trying to be very good after all that pasta and gelato in Italy.). While I was walking around the market, one item in particular caught my eye, Zucchini Flowers. I thought that the season for these was long over, so I picked up a box of them to take home with me.
I’ve been wanting to make a pasta dish with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers (or fiori di zucca in Italian). I’d never eaten these delicate blossoms until I moved to Italy, and there I fell in love with them. It wasn’t until several years ago that I started seeing them for sale in the farmers markets in New York. Now, I find them on menus around town, people ask for my recipes, and I read about them being used in dishes featured in cooking magazines.
Zucchini has been one of those things with which I’ve had a love-hate relationship. When it isn’t cooked to death, the way my mother made it when I was growing up, it is actually one of those vegetables that I enjoy eating. I’m not a huge fan of it raw on crudite platters, either. Somewhere in the middle, whether it is fried or sauteed, is really the best point at which to eat it, I feel, when there is some creaminess to it and a bit of a bite. Here, I cooked it in olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese on top, added the zucchini flowers, and sprinkled it with another summertime favorite, fresh basil, to give it an herbal, anise-like snap at the finish.
I tossed this with some linguine that I found hanging out in my cupboard, but spaghetti would work well, too. It seems like it will finally be getting a bit cooler after this weekend so summer really is winding down. There’s just a short window left to make this dish this year. Then, it will need to wait until next summer when the golden yellow zucchini flowers come back into season and bright green, tender zucchini flood the markets.
Pasta with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers (Pasta alle zucchine e fiori di zucca)
Serving Size: 2 starter portions
Prep Time: 20 minutes
2 tsp. Olive Oil (does not have to be extra virgin)
4 small, dark-skinned Zucchini, cut into round “coins”
2 cloves Garlic, minced
5 Zucchini Flowers, trimmed, rinsed and cut into strips cross-ways
1 Tbsp chopped fresh Basil
Black Pepper, freshly ground
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 portions of dried pasta, such as linguini, trenette or spaghetti (not too thin), cooked according to the directions on the package
Start water to boil for the pasta and follow the preparation instructions on the package. In Italian cooking, the sauce is made in advance of the pasta being cooked, so that nothing distracts from making the pasta perfectly. In this recipe, you can make them pretty much side-by-side, although the pasta will take a bit longer to cook than the sauce.
You will also need to clean the zucchini flowers before you cut them up to eat. As you can see in the above photo, there is a stem end that needs to be removed. Make a slit in the side of the flower, carefully open it up to separate the yellow floral part from the stem end and the yellow fuzzy part coming up from the stem. Discard those parts leaving only the yellow flower. That part is what you will chop up and eat. Rinse it carefully under water or brush with a wet towel to get rid of any dirt and bugs on it.
In a sautee pan large enough so that all the zucchini will fit in one layer, heat the olive oil for about 30 seconds over low to medium heat (It should not be smoking hot.). Put zucchini in the pan and cook it on one side until the coins start to blister a bit and become golden brown. This will take 2-3 minutes. Flip them over to cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic and mix together with the zucchini. Be careful not to let the garlic turn brown as it will then develop an acrid taste. Turn off the heat at this point. Add 4 of the chopped zucchini flowers and 2 Tbsp of the basil. Toss together letting the residual heat wilt them. Set aside until the pasta is ready.
Here is the beauty of this dish – it also makes a wonderful vegetable side course (or contorno in Italian). If you want to skip the pasta, at this point grate some Parmesan cheese on the top of the zucchini and zucchini flowers. Add a few grinds of black pepper and toss it together. Then, as a finishing touch sprinkle the remaining chopped zucchini flower and fresh basil on top of it. Serve immediately.
If using as a pasta sauce, drain the cooked pasta, reserving a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking liquid. Add the liquid to the pan with the vegetables and toss together. Put the pasta into the saucepan and stir to coat the pasta strands. Place half the pasta mixture on each of two plates. Add a couple of grinds of black pepper to each along with a dusting of Parmesan cheese, and the remaining chopped zucchini flowers and basil leaves. Serve immediately.