Lemon and cheese stuffed courgette flowers

On my recent visit to Provence, one of the first things I snapped up at the market was a packet of baby courgettes (aka zucchini or summer squash) with the bright yellow, fragile flowers still attached. Stuffed courgette flowers are a once a year treat for me. I first fell for them when we lived in California and I bought them at the farmers market there. Then I started growing courgettes, mainly so that I’d have access to the flowers! If you see these at a farmers market, snap them up, or befriend someone who grows them.

Frying without faffing

I rarely deep fry anything but these stuffed courgette flowers are worth it. Rather than properly deep frying, I just cook them in about 2 inches of oil in a large wide pan. The key is to make sure the oil is hot, otherwise the batter will soak it up. You can use a thermometer but I’m old school and just use a cube of bread to check the temperature, when the bread turns golden, the oil is hot enough. Rather than throw the oil away, let it cool, straining it through a muslin or coffee filter and use it for cooking with.

How to serve stuffed courgette flowers

These light, crispy treats are perfect with a glass of fizz to cut through the batter and cheese flavour and are best when eaten straight away. What is key, is to sprinkle the stuffed courgette flowers really well with good salt (Maldon ideally) and a squeeze of lemon before eating them. I serve each person with lemon wedges and their own little bowl of salt when I make them because I’m bossy like that. If you panic at the thought of cooking with an audience, just remember that everyone will be so delighted at having you make these for them that they won’t notice any mess or mistakes.

The recipe is all very forgiving, I never weigh any of the ingredients when I make it now as I know how the mixture should look. Feel free to play around with the stuffing – adding different soft herbs or a different type of cheese.

Stuffed courgette flowers ingredients

(serves 6 as a pre-dinner snack)

Rapeseed (canola) oil for frying, around 200ml or 1 US cup

12 courgette flowers either the flowers on their own or with a baby courgette attached

60g (2 oz) Comte, Gruyere or Parmesan

140g (5oz) soft cheese such as ricotta, goats cheese or a full fat cream cheese

30g (1 oz) basil, chives or wild garlic leaves

1 lemon

Half a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

batter

140g (1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

around 250ml (just over 1 cup) very cold water

half a teaspoon fine grain sea salt

Half a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon

To serve

Maldon salt flakes

2 lemons

To make stuffed courgette flowers

  1. Make the stuffing by combining the finely grated hard cheese with the soft cheese. Add the finely chopped herbs, pepper and the zest of a lemon. I usually mash mine together with a fork. This will be easier if your cheese is room temperature.
  2. Make the batter by whisking together your flour, salt, pepper, lemon zest and the juice of the lemon. Then slowly add the cold water, you may not need all of it, whisking until you have the texture of thick cream. The odd lump is fine and, weirdly, will help you get a nice crunchy batter.
  3. Start warming the oil over a medium high heat. Use a wide, high sided pan. A high sided frying pan is good, a less wide saucepan will mean you can only cook a few in each batch as otherwise they’ll stick together.
  4. While your oil warms, start to stuff your flowers. You can be cheffy and tidy and use a piping bag but I’m never organised enough to use that so I just gently peel one of the flower petals, check for any tiny insects and if I find them, gently remove them. Then I use a teaspoon to squish around a tablespoon of the cheese mixture inside each flower. Then I squish the petals back together so that the cheese is enclosed. A little bit of seepage is fine. The cheese should help the petals stick together if they tear. The first one will feel tricky but you’ll quickly get into a routine. You can stuff the flowers and leave them in the fridge at this stage for a few hours.
  5. Once you have stuffed all your flowers you can test that your oil is hot. I do this by dropping a cube of bread (or a dollop of leftover batter) in, if it sizzles and starts to turn brown pretty quickly you are ready to fry. If not, leave the bread in and watch until it goes brown.
  6. Start cooking. Set up a production line with a plate of paper towel next to to your pan of oil, a pair of tongs, a slotted spoon, your bowl of batter and your stuffed flowers. Then, one by one, dip each flower in the batter until well coated and quickly, carefully place into the oil. I reckon on cooking 4-5 at a time in my pan. Too many and they’ll bring the temperature of the oil down and be soggy, or they’ll stick together.
  7. Cook them on one side without moving them until they turn golden and crisp (around 3 minutes), then use your tongs and spoon to gently turn them over and cook them for another couple of minutes on the other side.
  8. Set them onto the paper towel to remove excess oil while you cook the next batch.
  9. Serve Make sure your friends are ready with their wine poured and their pile of lemon wedges so that they can eat them while they are fresh and hot – with a squeeze of lemon and salt.

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AD – I created this recipe as part of a trip to work with Mirabeau wine in Provence.

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