Tempura Zucchini Blossoms
It's high zucchini season again. We've had zucchini steamed, sautéd, stuffed and curled, grated, grilled, fried, baked and raw. It's amazing, the supply of this prolific vegetable never seems to diminish! Our friends with vegetable gardens are all happy to share their zucchini bounty with us. Last week I counted over thirty zucchini and summer squash in our fridge -- a veritable zucchini tsunami! My husband and I even devised a plan to sneak out at night and replenish the supply at local farm stands just to help get rid of some of ours (but no, we didn't actually act on this idea).
Although the vegetables are very adaptable to a multitude of recipes, there's one component that you rarely see for sale -- zucchini blossoms. These are delicate and delicious treats. If you're lucky enough to get your hands on some blossoms, plan on eating them that same day -- they won't last long after they are picked. Although there are many wonderful Italian recipes for zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, the other evening I decided to take a more simple approach and make tempura blossoms.
Pick male flowers, which are a lot larger and have a large stamen in the middle -- the anthers and filaments are fused together in the male flower. For an appetizer or side dish, plan on 3 to 4 blossoms for each person. Until dinnertime, keep the blossoms in a glass of water on the counter. When it's time for dinner, rinse off the blossoms (inside and out) to make sure there aren't any resident bugs inside, shake them gently, and then cut off the prickly stem and trim the prickly green sepals at the bottom of the flower. Gently open the blossom so that you can cut the stamen off with a knife or pair of kitchen shears.
Heat 2 inches of vegetable (or peanut) oil in a cast iron pot until shimmering.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper. Carefully pour in 1 cup of plain seltzer or club soda, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Don't overwork the batter or you will deflate the effervescence and make the tempura heavier.
Dredge each blossom in the batter, shake off the excess then carefully lay them in the hot oil. Fry for about 2 minutes, then turn over and continue frying until light golden brown.
Transfer to a paper-towel lined platter and sprinkle with a little salt.
These are addictively delicious, but if you'd like to vary the flavor a bit, you can add ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the batter - OR - 2 teaspoons of curry powder.