How a once picky eater reconnected with one of her favorite, if unlikely, childhood meals.

By Bridget Hallinan
June 26, 2019
Nikolay_Donetsk/Getty Images

One of my favorite foods growing up was a flower.

Mind you, I was a picky eater. After a few years of dutifully shoveling down banana baby food and applesauce, I decided I didn’t like fruit when I was in preschool. I balked at oranges and recoiled when I saw grapes smushed on the floor. Soon after, vegetables followed, until I was left with a diet that basically consisted of chicken fingers, fries, mac and cheese, carrots, and pasta with butter. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry.) Thankfully, with years of maturity and a job that quite literally requires me to try new things on a weekly basis, my palate has significantly re-expanded. I now consider myself to be an adventurous eater—earlier this year, I tried venison for the first time with beet and chlorophyll sauce, something I can imagine younger me looking at and immediately, emphatically shaking her head. It always amuses me, then, to look back and think about how one of the meals I craved the most wasn’t a processed box of pasta, or nuggets—rather, a delicate, freshly fried zucchini blossom.

One of my earliest memories in the kitchen finds me pulling up a stool to the countertop, partaking in a choreographed dance with my mother. Snip, dip, dip, fry. The flowers are first gently cleaned with their stems trimmed off, then laid to the side; eggs are cracked and whisked together into a brilliant yellow liquid. Then, the dance continues. A bath in the egg mixture, with excess shaken off, before a quick dip in a powdery bowl of flour. Once the flowers are lightly coated, they’re transferred to a sauté pan, where a shimmering layer of vegetable oil will fry them to a delicate crisp. This was always the part I looked forward to the most—the telltale crackle and spatter, watching bubbles sizzle up around the batter and cover the flowers in a swath of light gold. You’ll find some recipes that call for panko or breadcrumb coating—even a ricotta filling, which I’ll get to in a minute. But for me, the allure was in the simplicity of the light, tempura-like crunch as I bit in, hot off the stove. Too hot, even, as I would frequently burn my tongue. But the pain was a small price to pay for that gorgeous taste, slightly salty, slightly sweet, and unlike anything else I’d had. 

Growing up with Italian heritage, I enjoyed this recipe as a summer staple. Every June, my mom and I would drive over to DePiero’s Farm and come home triumphantly with bags of the soft orange flowers—an equally exciting sight for my dad, who loves them just as much. They’re so crispy and easy to snack on when fried, even the most stubborn diners (like young Bridget) will have a hard time finding fault. The only issue, however, is finding them. You won’t see them in your typical supermarket produce aisle, and even if your local farmers' market or grocer does carry them, they’re not always ready when you want them to be. Case in point: I’m anxiously waiting for our own nearby farm stand to announce that zucchini flowers are in stock—they’ve been delayed by a few weeks, and I’m worried they’ll be out of season by the time they arrive. It’s been a few years since we’ve had fresh, fried flowers, due to their elusiveness as well as our own exhaustion and busy schedules. But a few years ago, when I took a short trip to Italy while studying abroad, I fell in love with them all over again.

I found the flowers at a tiny alleyway restaurant in Sorrento. I couldn’t tell you what the name was, let alone how to find it again—but there they were on the menu, the first time I’d ever seen them while dining out. Nostalgia hit me right in the chest, growing tight with emotion but also warm, the feeling you have when you’re reunited with an old friend. As my roommates ordered a few pizzas, I convinced them to add fiori di zucca fritti to the spread. Not only were they fried, but filled with ricotta and prosciutto, which added a rich, lush profile to the childhood dish I remembered. I was initially skeptical, but loved how the creamy cheese contrasted with the crispy coating, shattering with every bite. I knew then and there that our self-imposed zucchini flower hiatus had to come to an end. 

This summer, I’m determined to start up the dance again in the kitchen. My parents and I are on high alert for the flowers’ arrival—I’ll definitely reprise my classic egg and flour recipe, but I’m not above branching out to try stuffed or breadcrumb-coated flowers, either. We currently have our eyes on this lobster-stuffed zucchini blossom recipe, because you truly, truly can’t go wrong when you combine lobster and mascarpone. A fried mozzarella and prosciutto spin is on the list too, as it reminds me of my Sorrento meal—and the beauty of trying new things.

I’m really glad I’m not a picky eater anymore.

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