While delivering wine to my good friend Julia Johnston (kitchen designer extraordinaire) the other day, she was kind enough to bestow upon me the gift of…squash blossoms! Of course I’m talking about the delicate, golden blooms produced by summer squash, most commonly zucchini. While I have enjoyed these beautiful, edible flowers prepared in restaurants before, I’ve never made them myself.... Read More
The post Farm to Table: Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Marinara Sauce appeared first on The Glamorous Gourmet.
While delivering wine to my good friend Julia Johnston (kitchen designer extraordinaire) the other day, she was kind enough to bestow upon me the gift of…squash blossoms!
Of course I’m talking about the delicate, golden blooms produced by summer squash, most commonly zucchini. While I have enjoyed these beautiful, edible flowers prepared in restaurants before, I’ve never made them myself. Since Julia was generous enough to share them with me I knew I couldn’t just banish them to produce drawer purgatory where they would die a slow death along with the two remaining scallions and half a Vidalia onion leftover from last week’s cooking adventures – no, they were way too special for that! So I did some research on these beauties to learn a little bit more about them as well as the various methods of preparation.
Although most squash has its ancestry rooted in the Americas (pun intended), the one we know today as “zucchini” actually originated in Italy. When it comes to the zucchini flowers, there are both male and female varieties. The female flower is attached to the actual zucchini fruit (yes, this vegetable we’ve been enjoying in savory dishes all these years is technically a fruit) while the male flower grows directly on the stem of the plant – both are necessary for pollination to occur. While they look slightly different, the female flower has a flat bottom where it was attached to the zucchini while the male flower is slightly smaller and has a stem (pictured above), both are deliciously edible and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Popular preparation methods include stuffing and frying them in a light tempura batter, incorporating them in soups, and, since zucchini and its blossoms are very popular in Mexico, as a filling for quesadillas. After researching a few different preparations I decided to take the classic route and prepare them stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese, lightly battered and fried until golden and served with a marinara sauce. What’s not to love about that?
I’m happy to report the preparation of this dish was actually quite painless and the result was beautiful, golden floral nuggets that were positively delightful! The crispy outer shell studded with Maldon salt gave way to an oozy, cheesy center accentuated by the delicate flavor and texture of the flower itself. The key is to serve the blossoms warm so the cheese is perfectly melty and the marinara sauce made a wonderful accompaniment. As with just about any fried dish, Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms pair deliciously well with sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Franciacorta. If you choose to serve them with a marinara sauce as I ultimately did, a fruity Italian red like a Barbera is perfect! I hope you enjoy this dish and I’d love to hear what you think or if you have any other delicious ways of preparing this very special ingredient. Thanks again to Julia for expanding my culinary horizons!
Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Makes 6 blossoms
6 squash blossoms, stems trimmed to 1″
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 – 12 ounce bottle lager or light lager beer
Vegetable oil for frying (approximately 2 quarts if using a standard Dutch oven)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt for garnish
Carefully pry the leaves open towards the base of each flower, opening just enough to remove the stamen inside with your thumb and forefinger. Rinse each flower gently with cool water and pat dry.
Fill a piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner snipped out) with ricotta cheese and pipe 2-3 tablespoons into each flower being careful not to overfill. If the flower is filled with too much cheese it can burst during frying. Gently twist the petals closed at the top and set aside.
In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together flour, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Pour the beer into the mixture slowly, whisking to remove any lumps.
Add enough vegetable oil to a pot or heavy skillet so it comes up the side 2 inches, yet is not more than halfway up the sides. Heat oil to 360 degrees and then dip the flowers into the batter (use the stem to roll it when possible) and carefully add the battered blossoms to the hot oil. Fry until blossoms are golden and crisp, using a spider or spatula to make sure each side is golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes. Depending on the size of your pot, you may want to cook the blossoms in batches to avoid them sticking together.
Once done, remove blossoms to a paper towel-lined plate and season with Maldon sea salt while hot. Plate golden brown blossoms and serve with your favorite store bought or homemade marinara sauce.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Alberto Chiarlo, son of Michele who established the family’s eponymous winery in Italy’s renowned Piedmont region in 1956. The Chiarlo wines represent this family’s dedication to the mastery and expression of Piemontese terroir through the use of indigenous grape varieties, innovative viticultural practices and seven generations of winemaking tradition.
We met at Piattini, a new Italian eatery in Boca Raton’s Royal Palm Place, whose deliciously authentic cuisine provided the perfect accompaniment for the featured wines. As we took our seats Chiarlo explained, “We make wine to go with food,” reinforcing one of my favorite things about Italian wine, “and Piemonte is the food capital.” With just shy of 20 Michelin-starred restaurants in the region, he made an excellent point.
We began the tasting with the 2012 Chiarlo Gavi “Le Marne,” a delightful white wine made from 100% Cortese grapes with inviting aromas of white flowers, citrus and minerals. Chiarlo explained, “Our goal is to make wines that are expressive of the soil, [they are] not super modern.” Stefano Chiarlo, Alberto’s brother and Chiarlo winemaker, generally abstains from the use of temperature controlled fermentation and new French oak.” [We are] traditionalists and use the same style now as my grandfather. Our wines are grown in the field…the less touch in winemaking, the better.” This bright white wine had flavors of white peach and lemon accompanied by a crisp acidity which paired deliciously with the freshly grilled octopus.
Of all their wines, Barbera is most definitely at the heart of the Chiarlo ethos. This might sound surprising in the context of this region which deifies the Nebbiolo grape and has historically considered Barbera a simple, one-dimensional offering not suitable for much more than everyday enjoyment. However, Barbera was essentially the first wine the Chiarlo family produced and over the years they’ve done much to elevate its reputation. “Our first goal is to make Barbera,” Chiarlo stated with conviction. In order to produce the finest incarnation of this grape, the winemaking team implements green harvesting, a technique first introduced to the region by Michele Chiarlo in which the fruit of the vigorous Barbera vines is dramatically thinned, resulting in fewer grapes of higher quality with the goal of creating a more complex and potentially age-worthy wine.
Since Barbera plantings must vie for land with Nebbiolo in the town of Alba, another region known for producing much of Piedmont’s Barbera wines, Barbera from Asti is generally considered more structured and complex due to the availability of superior vineyard land. The 2011 Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Le Orme,” is made from fruit sourced in the southern part of Asti from the hills around Nizza Monferrato. The wine is fermented for ten days in stainless steel tanks and then aged for eight months in large French oak casks prior to release. The wine had enticing aromas and flavors of black fruit, cassis and spice as well as a lovely hint of violet. On the palate, the wine had a velvety mouthfeel while the acid and tannin struck a harmonious balance. This wine was perfect for enjoying on its own but also paired extremely well with the flavors of the Prosciutto di Parma and decadent duck pate.
In addition to the “Le Orme,” we also sampled the 2009 Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza “La Court,” Chiarlo’s single vineyard Barbera made from fifty year old vines and only in the best vintages. Again, Chiarlo stressed the wine was, “very traditional, [fermented in] open vats with no temperature control. In order to do this we must have perfect grapes.” Fermentation in large oak casks was followed by an additional twelve months of oak aging resulting in a wine with structure and balance as well as heady aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, plum and spice with a tangy acidity and lengthy finish. This wine is delicious now but will continue to benefit from and evolve with additional time in the bottle. The “La Court” synergized deliciously with the Aged Goat Cheese studded with heavenly bits of Black Truffle.
Next were a dynamic duo of Chiarlo Barolos, the 2008 Tortoniano and the 2009 Cerequio. The ’08 Tortoniano Barolo is named for the tortonian-era soils in which the Nebbiolo vines are grown. This wine is more feminine in style than the other Chiarlo Barolos and is considered a great introduction to this wine known for its abundant levels of both acid and tannin. This wine is aged in oak barrels for two years and an additional year in the bottle prior to release resulting in a wine with a vibrant garnet color and fragrant aromatics of red cherry, roses and black truffle. On the palate flavors of pomegranate, ripe cherry, spice and Piemontese earth are accompanied by soft tannins and a lengthy, spice-tinged finish.
The Cerequio vineyard’s soil composition, southern exposure and mild climate make it one of the most prestigious crus of the Langhe. Located at 1,200 feet elevation within the La Morra commune the vineyard’s soils are rich in magnesium which has been found to result in wines of great elegance. Fermentation on the skins is followed by aging for two years in large oak barrels and an additional fifteen months in bottle before release. The resulting ’09 Cerequio Barolo was indeed elegant with complex, layered notes of black currant, cherry, spice and anise. This rich, full-bodied red clearly exhibited the hallmark acid and tannin levels often associated with these renowned wines and will most definitely age gracefully for years to come. Following Chiarlo’s lead, I also ordered the Bucatini Amatriciana, a pasta dish featuring crispy guanciale (cured pork jowl/cheek), flavorful pomodoro sauce and an ample dusting of Pecorino Romano cheese. The housemade bucatini pasta was cooked perfectly “al dente” which brought a smile to Chiarlo’s face as well as all who ordered it. Needless to say it was the perfect accompaniment for both Barolos demonstrating how a robust wine can stand up to a dish with comparable levels of flavor and texture which, in return, will serve to tame the wine’s acid and tannins.
The Michele Chiarlo wines offer a wonderful opportunity to explore Italy’s Piedmont wine region, one of the most renowned wine regions in the world. Whether you’re looking for a crisp, refreshing everyday white wine; an immensely enjoyable selection of red wines or age-worthy additions for your wine cellar there’s definitely a little something for everyone. Also, if you live in the Boca/Delray area (or happen to be visiting) be sure to visit Piattini Ristorante located at 187 SE Mizner Blvd in Boca Raton. For information on purchasing any of the Michele Chiarlo wines, please click here to visit The Wine Atelier.