I first tried courgette flowers a few years ago, randomly enough from a food stall at a Cornish music festival, and have always wanted to have a crack at cooking them myself. They are one of the only things that manage to turn what is basically deep fried cheese into something delicate and beautiful. They also have the wow factor, but despite looking complicated, with a little care they are really easy to make.
The only difficult thing about courgette flowers can be getting hold of them. Only very good greengrocers and food markets will stock them, and when you do find them they can be quite expensive. The most satisfying and cheapest way would be to grow them yourself. I had high hopes of doing that this year, but my plans were scuppered by hungry slugs with educated palates. So with my tail firmly between my legs I found myself walking to Borough Market, knowing if anywhere would have them it would be there.
There are some really fantastic food markets and local suppliers in London and around the country, and they often have a much wider range of great quality produce than you would find at the supermarket. My trip to Borough didn’t disappoint: it really is a mecca of food produce that cannot fail to inspire. I had to control myself and remain disciplined to the recipe in hand, and I emerged with a bag of ingredients that had me excited to get home and start cooking.
As well as the courgette flowers, I also needed to find ingredients for the stuffing and the dipping sauce. The cheesemonger recommended that I used a soft goat’s cheese from Poitou Charentes, which has a sweet and mild taste to complement the courgette. With that bought, all I had to find was something to flavour the dipping sauce. Originally when planning this recipe, I wanted to get hold of some ‘nduja sausage, which is a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria. On this occasion I couldn’t find any, but upon stopping at a Spanish delicatessen I saw some sombrasada, which looked like it would fit the bill perfectly. This is a soft chorizo that has similar qualities to ‘nduja, and I knew that it would melt through my sauce giving it a strong, hot flavour.
Courgette flowers are seasonal, and you can only really source them in the summer. With this in mind I urge you to make the most of them over the next month or so!
For the courgette flowers:
4 courgette flowers
200g soft goat’s cheese, I used a Poitou-Chareutes
1 lemon, zest and juice of half
5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped
20g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and pepper
1.5 litres vegetable oil for deep frying
For the dipping sauce:
120g sombrasada, skin removed and roughly chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 anchovy filllets, finely chopped
2 handfuls good quality cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
For the light batter:
100g plain flour
200ml sparkling water
salt and pepper
First get the dipping sauce on. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (one with a lid) to a medium heat, and when hot add the shallots, garlic and chilli. When they soften, add the sombrasada and anchovies and cook for another couple of minutes. Finally add the cherry tomatoes and season well, mix everything together and put the lid on the pan. After 15 minutes, the tomatoes will be dissolving and the mixture will be looking like more of a sauce. After another 5 minutes transfer the contents into a food processor and blitz until smooth, adding a little water if if needs thinning down. Season and adjust if needed, before pouring the mixture into a saucepan to be heated up later.
While the sauce is cooking make the batter. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, mix with a good amount of seasoning before slowly whisking in the sparkling water. Once the batter is thoroughly mixed and the thickness of double cream cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
To make the filling for the courgette flowers, mash the goat’s cheese, lemon juice and zest together with a fork to loosen slightly. Mix in the oregano, parmesan and seasoning before tasting and setting aside.
Pour the frying oil into a large, heavy saucepan and heat up to 170ºC.
To prepare the courgette flowers, carefully part the petals until you can just squeeze your fingers through to remove the stamen. Spoon your filling mixture into a piping bag, and once any air pockets have been removed, carefully squeeze in the filling. You want enough filling in each flower to create a nice full pocket, but not too much that you can’t fully seal with the petals. Repeat until all flowers have been filled, trimming the ends of the courgettes if necessary at the same time.
Put the saucepan containing the dipping sauce onto a low-medium heat and gently warm up.
When the oil is hot, very carefully dip the courgette flowers into the batter mixture, making sure they are completely covered. Allow any excess to drip off before lowering into the hot oil. Quickly repeat with another. I usually do this in batches of 2 flowers to stop them sticking together. Cook for a few minutes, or until the batter turns a light golden colour before removing from the oil and draining on kitchen paper.
When all of the courgette flowers are cooked, arrange 2 on each plate, adding a small bowl of the dipping sauce and a few fresh oregano leaves.
Any leftover dipping sauce can be used as a fantastic base for a pasta sauce or soup, and goes particularly well with butternut squash.