One of our signature dishes is our Courgette Flower – stuffed with Monte Enebro goat’s cheese, lightly deep fried and drizzled with honey. They have been a firm favourite since they first went on the menu at Salt Yard (they are also available at Dehesa, Opera Tavern and Ember Yard) and we wanted to share a little of the history of this dish with you…
Courgettes were not widely eaten in Europe before the 20th Century – sources claim that they were brought over to Europe from America during the crusades of Cristopher Columbus. Squash have been cultivated in Central America for over 5,000 years and play a prominent role in Mexican cuisine – particularly in Quesadillas and soups.
During the flowering season (June to September) a single courgette plant will produce about 50 flowers, some male and some female, both of which are edible. The males grow on a thin stem, are longer and generally larger than the female flowers. The females are easily distinguishable; as a bud appears, a tiny bulb forms at its base, which, as the flower bud grows, expands in to a courgette. As only the female blossoms produce fruit, you can harvest the male’s blossoms without affecting the plant’s productivity.
However, if a grower leaves the plant untouched and just harvests the fruit, the flowers will shrivel up and die. Which is very likely the reason courgette blossoms were originally used in cooking in the first place!
Cucina di Recupero (which translates literally to ‘recovery food‘) is an Italian philosophy that nothing goes unused. Throughout history, Italian chefs and home cooks have been very creative with the seasonal produce available to them, transforming what others may consider waste. The notion of waste in many Italian home is inconceivable, and the frugality of ‘using every part’ contributes pleasant surprises to both the palate and the wallet.
It is said that each region of the Italian Peninsula has its own recipe for courgette flowers, but here’s ours:
Makes 12 Courgette Flowers
12 Courgette Flowers – stalks intact
120g semi-firm goat’s cheese (such as Monte Enebro or Chevre) – cut in to 10g pieces
150g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
450ml sparkling water
2 litres vegetable oil for frying
Runny blossom honey for drizzling
First, make the batter. Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl, then slowly whisk in the sparkling water and incorporate well. You are looking for a tempura-like consistency; not too thick but of a coating consistency. Pass through a sieve, cover and leave to rest for half an hour.
Secondly, prepare the flowers. Carefully peel back the delicate petals of each flower and remove the stamens as they can taste bitter. Shape the goat’s cheese into balls and gently stuff in to each flower, taking care not to tear them. Cut a small slit about 5cm up the centre of the stalk to help speed up the cooking process.
Pour the vegetable oil into a deep-sided pan. Heat the oil until a drop of batter fizzles and browns as soon as its dribbled into the oil or until it is heated to 180 degrees Celcius (if using a deep-fat fryer). Dip the flowers into the batter and then lower into the frying pan. It’s best to deep-fry in batches of two or three at a time. Cook the flowers, turning occasionally, until they are golden brown on all sides. This should take 3-5 minutes.
When ready, remove the flowers from the oil, drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm. Cook the remaining flowers in the same way. When all the flowers have been cooked and drained of oil, transfer to serving plates. Drizzle with the runny blossom honey and serve immediately.
You can buy courgette flowers before the season ends – they sell them individually at farmer’s markets, Waitrose and Fortnum & Mason, but we buy ours from First Choice.