Fleurs de Courgette Farcies
The recipe I hallucinated having seen in either this month's Regal or Saveur for the stuffed zuchinni flowers was no where to be found. Perhaps it was the SAUPE we ate that caused me to imagine having seen it! Maybe it was in that issue of Femme Actuelle that was circulating among our beach bags. The reason why I liked the recipe was that the stuffing included meat and it looked like an interesting thing to try. After searching for the recipe and not finding it, I thought of my old recipe, the one dating from the first year I discovered the beautiful flowers one August morning a few years ago at my then market on the Rhone quai, over near the University. It is a delicious vegetarian dish that I've already done many times, so it will be better to share with you, since it is an old standard in my kitchen notebook.
Some people fry stuffed zuchinni flowers, but I really was not impressed the effect or the feel of the finished product the one time I tried an Italian recipe that called for that technique. That excursion also covered the entire kitchen in a fine greazy mist that took a long time to erradicate as well - so I won't be frying them.
This recipe involves serving the stuffed fleur de courgette on a bed of tangy savory confit of onions and pepper. The original dish, which I once saw on a French cooking show (I used to watch it daily with dictionary in hand in an effort to improve my listening comprehension in French) called for a few more steps and which eventually made a sauce finished with peppers and heavy cream. I eventually eliminated the cream because I have a fundamental aversion to cream and pepper mixtures in sauces, to me cream cheats pepper and dulls it. When I see a red pepper coulis, for example, one that tops a spicy grilled red snapper fillet, and I see anyone muddy the clear and delicate flavor of red bell pepper with heavy cream without thinking to what that does to the flavor, I say: Hello? Did you taste this without the cream before you made that decision?
Here's the old tried and true recipe. I would like to point out that this recipe is flexible. The point is to stuff the flower with yummy combinations of delicate and delicious things which will be heightened by the acidic flavors below in the confit of peppers and onions, but it is under no circumstances an exact science. I will give you the precise recipe of what I prepared today but please don't feel bound by it.
Fleurs de Courgette Farcies
Serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as an entree or light lunch dish.
What you see here is everything that went into the recipe, except salt and pepper.
1 small goat cheese
8 fleurs de courgettes
a little squash (you can use a zuchinni, a summer squash, etc.)
1 red bell pepper
1/2 an eggplant
12 marinated black olives
1/4 cup tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic
1T. each of minced basil, sage, and chervil
a few chives
5T. fruity olive oil
salt and pepper
Notes on the ingredients:The best goat cheese for this recipe should be a mild fresh cheese. I normally choose a young Picodon because it holds up to dicing and melts nicely into the stuffing when baked. It should be about 2 ounces or 60 grams in size. As we all know, nothing beats local goat cheese and I know from experience that in many parts of the world there are many great domestic and local goat cheeses out there that are excellent in quality. Use what is available to you, and don't feel like you have to make a trip to a specialty cheese shop for this recipe. My friends in America can also try the great American bleus, or even, if your area produces an acceptable cheddar, some of that.
Zuchinni flowers open in the morning, and close at night. They do this many times on the plant. The female flowers are recognised by what gardeners call the inferior ovary hanging from the plant, or a little courgette hanging from the base of the blossom. The male flowers don't feature the courgette hanging off. The petals of this flower take on a slightly sticky surface when they are trying to close. The consistency of the petal is stretchy and flexible like saran wrap. This helps you to really stuff the flower without breaking it. You should never wash the petals under running water, but you can wipe them and the little courgette very gently with a damp cloth to remove any visible dust. When you buy them, choose clean ones. If your flowers wilt, or close, don't worry, you can carefully pull them open when it is time to stuff them. They will stuff just fine.
You are going to finish your slow cooked pepper, tomato and onion with marinated olives. These should be the kind that have the pits in them. Choose soft ones, and that have lots of subtle olive flavor and don't taste vinegary. If you are not sure about your olives or have no access to olives except olives in a can, omit them from the recipe. They won't add anything to the flavor or texture if the quality is not good.
The herbs you use are going to depend on what you have available. Today I used a little bit of sage, basil, chervil and chives. If you are in a place where you just can't get fresh aromatics at all, I recommend that you use a teaspoon of dried oregano and a teaspoon of dried sage. Remember that dried herbs are much more concentrated than their fresh counterparts. A few leaves of minced arugula are good to add for the texture of the stuffing if you use the dried herbs.
1) Start the Tomato, Onion and Peppers: Dice 1 onion and 1/2 pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, pepper, and tomato puree to the pan. Saute them briefly over for 2 minutes without letting them brown. Tightly cover the saucepan the and reduce the heat. Let these soften and cook at a low temperature, and add a few spoons of water from time to time to keep them moist while you continue.
2) Make your flower stuffing:
Chop the remaining onion, shallot, garlic, remaining pepper, eggplant, and summer squash. Heat up the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan, and add them all at once. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and toss and stir them over high heat for 2 minutes, until the eggplant begins to soften around the edges. Remove from heat and set aside. Dice the cheese and mince the herbs, and gently fold them into the warm vegetable saute. Rectify the seasoning (add salt and pepper) while the mixture is warm.
3) Stuff the Flowers: Heat the oven to 400 degrees F or 200 C.
The first thing you want to do is to open the blossom and pinch out the pistil, the thing that has the pollen. It snaps off easily and cleanly. Discard the pistil, delicately seperate the petals, and spoon in enough stuffing into the well of the flower to fill it to where the petals seperate.Fold the petals over the stuffing one after the other, stretching them slightly. Note that when you remove the pistil, the petals will begin to get secrete the sticky substance they do when they close, so you should remove the pistils one by one as you stuff each flower. Place them one by one as you stuff them into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake the stuffed flowers for 25 minutes, checking them at 20 minutes to be sure they don't overcook. If they are overcooked, the fruit will fall from the blossom, so be careful. The zuchinni should be soft enough to easily slip a knife into the squash fruit, but not mushy. When you put them in the oven, remove the saucepan containing the onions, pepper and tomato mixture from the heat and reserve.
4) When the flowers have 5 minutes left to cook, return the pepper and onions to the heat. Pit your olives and roughly chop them. Incorporate the chopped olives into the onion pepper and tomato, and let simmer until the zuchinni flowers are ready.
5) Presentation: Spoon a mound of the pepper, tomato, onions, and olives onto the plate. Nestle two or three stuffed flowers onto the bed, and serve hot.