Editor’s Note: Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside”.
What would a backyard garden be without a few Zucchini plants? Famous for being productive and easy to grow, everybody likes Zucchini. In fact, the biggest problem most energetic gardeners have is they don’t have enough friends to take all the surplus zucchini. All the Northside moms and grandmothers traded zucchini recipes. Zucchini bread, fried zucchini, stuffed zucchini… how about zucchini with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese? The list goes on and on. Both my grandmothers had a special recipe they did not share with friends outside the family. It is a real delicacy.
I remember going into the backyard garden and watching either of my grandmothers carefully pick the biggest brightest zucchini flowers they could find. The flowers were delicate so they had to be handled with care. They made it clear that what they were about to prepare was very special.
The first step was to carefully clean the zucchini flowers. The second step was creating an egg batter. There are many variations and it seemed to depend on what herbs were in season. My grandmothers always used brown eggs. I suppose it is a matter of taste. Salt, a little minced garlic and whatever herbs seemed freshest that day were whisked into the egg batter. They would whip up the batter with one or two eggs depending on how many people wanted to eat. I always liked fresh chives chopped up with the garlic. I also like to add about 2 tablespoons of flour to the egg batter to give it a thicker consistency.
They did not deep fry the flowers but lightly sautéed them in olive oil. They cook very quickly so I would put only one or two at a time in the frying pan. When the oil was sufficiently hot the grandmothers dipped each flower in the batter coating as thoroughly as possible. Be careful to sauté the flowers for 2 minutes or less. I keep a few chopped chives and some minced garlic on the side and sprinkle them on each flower as they are cooking. Drain the sautéed flowers in a platter with paper towels for a moment or two. Make sure you eat them while they are still hot. No grandson can wait very long to taste one of these.
In recent years I have developed a Zucchini Flower Omelet, which is pictured below. My friends who did not have an Italian grandmother seem to prefer this more familiar style. Either way the taste is memorable.