Unless you grew up in an Italian household, eating zucchini flowers (also called zucchini blossoms) may seem like a foreign concept to you. But these days, this seasonal delicacy is actually a coveted farmers market item—or an anticipated item to harvest from your own backyard squash crop and then battered and fried. However you acquire them or cook them, zucchini flowers fancy up any summertime spread and are sure to generate a conversation when you serve them.
What Are Zucchini Flowers?
The flowers are the edible flower of the zucchini plant. Bright yellow in color, with striations of white and green, they are tasty whether eaten raw or cooked.
When you first pick them or buy them, it's wise to gently shake off any moisture or insects that may be hiding inside the flowers, especially if it's the morning and the blossoms are closed. They're delicate and don't last long, so any excess moisture is going to accelerate deterioration.
Both the male and female zucchini flowers can be picked and consumed, with the males winning out because only the females will grow fruit. They're not terribly expensive, especially if you are using the flowers from your own garden.
How to Use Zucchini Flowers
Before you eat them, the flowers need to be gently washed under cold water and pat dry. All parts of the bloom are edible.
The most traditional and popular method for consuming the flowers is to fry them, which gives them a crispy exterior. In traditional Italian cuisine, squash blossoms are often stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and herbs, then dipped in a light batter and pan-fried in oil. Eaten raw in salads, they maintain their texture, similar to other edible blossoms, whereas cooking tenderizes them very quickly.
What Do They Taste Like?
This isn't an overly flowery experience in terms of taste. A delicate squash flavor and a soft velvety texture give them a unique sensory experience.
Zucchini Flower Recipes
Other than frying them, the flavor of zucchini flowers also pairs well with fresh cheese plates and in egg dishes like a summer frittata. Cut them into shreds, add them to pizza, pasta, or risotto. Or stuff them inside an Italian-style quesadilla with peppers, tomatoes, and cheese.
Where to Buy Zucchini Flowers
Wherever you find them, seek out flowers with moist, green stems and bright orange, wilt-free flowers.
They're typically available at farmers markets or your local specialty grocer starting in June (depending on your climate) and through the summer. Ask your farmer early in the season if and when they'll bring them to market. This is definitely a situation where it pays off to know your farmer.
If you buy your flowers at a store, ask the produce manager when they were received so you know how fresh they are. Because they are so fragile, it's best to buy flowers stored in clamshell containers, which keep them from smashing and bruising each other in transit.
The best way to ensure a steady, high-quality supply is to grow them yourself: The fresher the flowers, the better they taste. Growing zucchini flowers is easy. Plant seeds or starts 3 to 4 feet apart in rows with about 1 foot of spacing in between. Zucchini plants like well-drained, consistently moist soil, but to avoid disease and fungus, don't overwater them. Summer squash matures in approximately six to seven weeks, but flowers will show much sooner.
Once your zucchini plant blossoms, pick the long-stemmed male flowers, distinguished by their single stamen in the middle, covered in pollen. Leave a few to pollinate the females, as they are the only ones that fruit. Depending on your growing season's progress, picking the flowers can also become a preemptive strike toward controlling what can easily morph into an abundant and overwhelming backyard crop.
Zucchini flower fanatics sometimes like to harvest just a few female blossoms with the small fruit attached; sometimes farmers markets will present them that way for sale, too.
These flowers are highly perishable and are best used within a day of buying or a day or so of picking them. If storing them is necessary, you can preserve them a bit by wrapping them between damp paper towels and putting them in a zipper-topped plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. If they come in a plastic clamshell at the store or market, that's the best way to protect them; be sure to place them in a spot where other products won't crush them.
It's even possible to freeze the flowers. If you have a plastic container, arrange the flowers in a single layer, separated by paper towels (with one on the bottom to start) so that they absorb any moisture and don't stick together in a big clump. The freezer is an excellent way to cheat the calendar—just break these flowers out of the deep freeze for a hint of freshness once summer is over.
Nutrition and Benefits
You'll reap many of the same benefits eating the flowers as you would by eating the fruit. They contain vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, and calcium.