Beer-Battered Stuffed "Fiori di Zucca" with Whipped Ricotta & Labneh
Zucchini flowers, or Fiori di Zucca as we call them in Italian, are a delicate and delicious ingredient. When stuffed and fried, they are a popular street food in many parts of Italy, particularly in the regions of Lazio, Campania and throughout the south.
The zucchini flowers in batter are certainly the most classic version, believed to have originated from Rome. They are usually stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, dipped in a batter made with sparkling water and 00 flour, and then deep fried and served as appetisers in many restaurants in our capital.
There are many other popular versions throughout Italy. For example, in Frittelle di Sciurilli, typical of Naples, the flowers are mixed in a yeasted batter, then deep fried as little fritters or dumplings until golden.
Different regions and traditions adapt this recipe by using various fillings - some use smoked scamorza cheese (yum!) instead of mozzarella; others use burrata and sun-dried tomatoes; in Sicily we prefer to use ricotta; others instead stuff them with meat, while another great use of the flowers is to top pizza, or added to various pastas and risotto recipes.
In season during summer, zucchini flowers bring colour to the table and are so simple to prepare! Once fried till crispy, you can serve them in small paper cones with a slice of lemon (we call this "cuoppo" - a term borrowed from the street food tradition in Naples).
For my version, I chose to prepare an eggless beer batter. This made them even crispier than the classic version with sparkling water.
I flavoured the batter with fennel seeds - a spice I love to add to many of my dishes and that we use in several sweet and savoury recipes in Sicily. It reminded me of our "frittelle di San Martino" (St. Martin's fritters) which my mum used to flavour with fennel and raisins.
I stuffed the zucchini flowers with whipped ricotta and labneh. This is a dip I came up with recently that I love to prepare when friends come over.
If you are unfamiliar with labneh (also spelled labnah or labne), this is a soft Middle Eastern and Levantine cheese made from strained yogurt. It's surprisingly easy to make, and it's really versatile. I prepared labneh ahead of time by straining full-fat yogurt with salt and lemon in a cheesecloth overnight.
The next day the whey has separated and you are left with a thick, delicious spread of about half the weight of the original yogurt. The whey that has separated from the yogurt can be used as it's full of nutrients. I normally mix it with flour (instead of water) to make bread, or add it to soups.
I drizzle some olive oil over the labneh and then I mix it in a bowl with an equal amount of ricotta, whipping them till very smooth and silky...heaven, believe me.
Here's how I made these zucchini flowers.
10 zucchini flowers
Peanut (or sunflower) oil for deep frying
For the filling:
450g greek yogurt
A squeeze of lemon juice
1/3 tsp salt
250g fresh ricotta
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the batter:
80g 00 flour (superfine pasta flour)
A pinch of baking soda
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp salt
To make these stuffed beer-battered zucchini flowers, you need to prepare the labneh ahead of time (unless you decide to use store-bought which is totally fine).
Line a fine-mesh colander with cheesecloth and place it on top of a bowl, where you will be straining the whey.
Place the full-fat yogurt in the colander, then add the salt and lemon juice, wrap the cheesecloth tightly and place a weight on top of the yogurt. Leave it like this overnight at room temperature. The next morning, transfer the labneh to a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside till you are ready to make the zucchini flowers.
Mix the labneh and ricotta with a whisk or fork until smooth and silky.
Remove the small tips from the zucchini flowers, clean then carefully, then place about 1 tbsp of the whipped ricotta and labneh inside each flower.
Prepare the batter by mixing all ingredients listed.
Heat the frying oil and when it reaches about 180°C, quickly dip each zucchini flower into the batter, drain the excess and fry it in oil until golden and crispy.
Drain the excess oil on kitchen paper and serve while still warm and crispy.