Stuffed Courgette Flowers

One of the best stalls in Frome farmer's market is the vegetable stall which always has a good selection of basics with one or two specials and the occasional rarity. On Saturday they excelled though, new croppings of beetroot, early potatoes, trays of rainbow chard and spinach, some excellent onions (something of a cross between spring and full grown, both red and white, mild when eaten raw and exceedingly sweet when barbecued or griddled) and heads of Hispi cabbage with plenty of the darker leaves left on (why do supermarket suppliers carve off all of those lovely dark greens?). But the emphasis was on lettuce with half a dozen varieties on show and peeping out from amongst them, courgettes, smaller than your little finger, with the flowers still attached. I'd heard of deep fried courgette flowers, even stuffed courgette flowers but had never eaten them let alone prepared them, but they looked so good that I couldn't resist buying the last three.

Once back home it was to Google I turned where a multitude of recipes were presented; apparently you can simply dip them in batter and fry them (at least five different recipes for the batter to be used), they can be stirred into risottos, they can be stuffed with a variety of different stuffings, wrapped in pastry or prosciutto, baked, griddled, barbecued and I don't know what else, but the classic seems to be to stuff them with ricotta flavoured with garlic, lemon and parsley, dusted with flour, dipped in batter and deep fried, so that's what I plumped for.

You need a large, deep pan with a couple of inches of deep-fry oil in it, brought up to heat so that a cube of bread fries brown in a minute or so (that's pretty hot but not smoking).

Firstly I didn't have any ricotta, but there was a half pot of Co-op light cream cheese left over from when we made a peppered mackeral paté with a leftover mackeral fillet, so I dug out three teaspoonfuls, chopped the leaves from a small stem of parsley, gave a quick squeeze of lemon and a couple of drops of garlic olive oil and mashed the lot up together.

Leaving the tiny courgettes attached I carefully removed the stamens/pistils from inside the flowers, this is tricky and best done by someone with tiny fingers as you don't want to split the flowers open. Then a careful wash and gentle shake dry before getting MrsRiverdale to put a teaspoon of the cheese mix into each of the flowers and twisting the tops of them round to seal the filling in; not only does she have small fingers but she does have the use of two hands, it would have been a very tricky manouevre to do it one-handed.

I chose a simple batter, from those suggested on Google, of a couple of dessertspoons of white self-raising flour (I used Dove's Farm gluten free white self-raising flour due to my wheat allergy) slaked with fizzy water until it was the thickness of good milk.

Firstly I tried to dust the (pretty dry) stuffed flowers in some more of the self-raising flour but nothing stuck so I gently rinsed the stuffed flowers under the tap, shook to get rid of too much excess water, and then dusted with the flour again, much better result, the light coating of flour enables the batter to stick. The recipes all say dip the flowers in the batter, but I actually laid them in the dish of batter spooning batter over them until they were well covered I then took the dish with the flowers in to the deep fry pan, removed the battered flowers, and carefully lowered them in to the hot oil. The recipes generally say fry 'til crisp but don't let them brown, I missed this point and retrieved them, after 3 or 4 minutes, when they were a beautiful golden colour, and laid them on kitchen paper to drain. A gentle exploration with the tines of a fork confirmed that they were indeed crispy.

Some suggest serving with a drizzle of honey, maybe a scoop of ice-cream for those who see them more as a dessert, but we ate them, with our fingers, as they were.

Now all this seems a terrible faddle but believe me it was worth it, the crispness (and lightness) of the batter, made sweeter by the use of the non-wheat flour, contrasted with the softness of the courgette (be careful, both the courgette and stuffing were very hot), the flowers themselves were also crisp but the stuffing was just meltingly rich enough, with the lemon contrasting with the overall sweetness, and the garlic just giving an edge to it all. They were fabulous.