Zucchini flower fritters

If you have zucchini plants in your garden at the moment then it’s well and truly time to enjoy both the zucchini and their flowers. The flowers should be picked early in the morning whilst they’re wide open and crisp. I only pick the male flowers which are the ones that grow on the stems of the plant (the female flowers are those attached to the zucchini themselves- they are good to use if you’re making stuffed flowers with the zucchini attached to them).

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The flowers are quite delicate so must be handled with care and they are a haven for insects so ensure that you wash them thoroughly. The stamens must be removed from the middle of the flower before you can use them.

To make these fritters really tasty you need to use a generous amount of basil, red onion, Pecorino cheese and grated zucchini (from the garden if you have them). I shallow fry them in sunflower oil as it has a high smoke point and I find much less oil is absorbed than if you were to use olive oil.

They make a great starter to any summer time meal or you can enjoy them as a snack. Try the recipe out and let me know what you think!

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Makes 20 fritters

Ingredients

15 zucchini flowers, stamens removed then thoroughly washed

1 1/2 cups basil, thoroughly washed and roughly torn up

1/2 cup diced red onion

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated zucchini

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese

2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cup wholemeal plain flour

1 1/3 cups self-raising flour

1/2 cup water

Sunflower oil, for shallow frying

Method

1. Gently tear the zucchini flowers into strips, then place them in a large bowl.

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2. Next add the torn up basil, the diced onion and the grated zucchini.

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3. Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste, then add the grated Pecorino cheese.

4. Add the lightly beaten eggs then mix everything together with a fork to ensure that the mixture is evenly combined.

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5. Now add both types of flour along with the water and mix again with a fork until everything is thoroughly combined. The batter should be thick yet wet. If it’s dry, add a little more water but be careful not to make it runny.

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6. Once the batter is the right consistency, heat the sunflower oil in a large fry pan. You only need enough oil for shallow-frying. While it’s heating up, line a couple of large plates with paper towels.

7. Once the oil is hot enough, place spoonfuls of the batter into the oil and shape them into fritters. Try not to overcrowd the pan (I separated mine after I took this photo- it’s hard to fry things and remember to take photo’s too!)

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8. Once the bottom of the fritters are golden, flip all the fritters over and fry them until the other side is golden too.

9. When ready, quickly remove them from the fry pan and place them on the plates lined with paper towel which you prepared earlier. Cover the fritters with paper towels and gently press down on them to soak up any excess oil.

10. Repeat the above process with the remainder of the batter.

11. Allow the fritters to cool down for a minute then serve.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

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Beef stuffed eggplants

Stuffing vegetables is a very common practice in all of the Mediterranean. Eggplants, capsicums, zucchini, tomatoes or even vine leaves can be stuffed with a meat or rice filling and then baked in the oven. They make a wonderful side dish and can be enjoyed all year round, using whichever vegetable is in season at the time.

Beef stuffed eggplants

My favourite vegetable to enjoy stuffed with beef are eggplants, which are currently in season in Melbourne. Eggplants contain bitter substances which must be drawn out before you cook them. This is done by a process known as degorging, where you cut the eggplant open, sprinkle it with salt and then wait for liquid containing the bitter substances to form on the surface- this liquid is then rinsed away and the eggplants are patted dry.

The filling for these eggplants is basically a meatball mixture, with the addition of the pulp from the inside of the eggplants. As always, the filling tastes better if you make your own fresh breadcrumbs. All you need to do is toast some old bread (in this instance I used wholemeal multigrain bread), roughly tear it up then process it in a food processor until you’ve got breadcrumbs.

Makes 8 serves

Ingredients

4 large eggplants, washed and stems cut off

Salt

Olive oil

800g minced beef

2 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten

1 red onion, peeled and finely diced

1 cup freshly-made breadcrumbs

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup parsley, chopped

Freshly-ground black pepper

2/3 cup tomato and herb sauce

Method

1. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways. Then using a knife, remove the pulp from the middle of each eggplant half, leaving the shells about 1cm thick. Take care not to cut through the shells as you don’t want any of the filling to fall out. Reserve the pulp.

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2. Sprinkle salt over the 8 eggplant shells, then place them in a colander in your sink to allow the bitterness to be drawn out (this may take an hour or so).

3. While the eggplants are degorging, prepare the filling. Begin by roughly dicing the eggplant pulp.

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4. Next, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan, then add the eggplant pulp and gently sauté it until it becomes golden and tender. Remove it from the heat.

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5. Preheat your oven to 190°C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper and lightly drizzle it with olive oil.

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6. In a large bowl, add the minced beef, eggs, red onion, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley and the cooked pulp. Season with freshly-ground black pepper, then stir it well to combine.

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7. Once the bitter liquid has formed on the surface of the eggplant shells, rinse it off then gently pat them dry with some paper towel.

8. Evenly fill each eggplant shell with the beef mixture, pressing it down with a fork. Place the filled eggplants in the baking tray in a single layer.

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9. Spoon about one tablespoon or so of sauce over each of the eggplants. If you like you can also sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over the sauce.

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10. Cover the tray with foil and bake at 190°C for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake them for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

Wholegrain spaghetti with broad beans (fava beans)

Broad beans (aka fava beans) are finally in season in Melbourne so it’s time to share with you this quintessential ‘cucina povera’ dish. The basis of this style of cooking is that you only need to use a handful of inexpensive ingredients to create something wonderful. The cooking techniques are often simple with the emphasis being on the ingredients themselves; usually whatever you have growing in your garden at the time. Try to eat seasonal foods wherever possible- they tend to be tastier, fresher and a lot cheaper to buy. If you’re lucky enough to have space for a veggie patch I’d strongly recommend planting some food for yourself. Broad beans are fairly easy to grow (though you’ll have to wait until next year to plant some) and bringing food from your garden to the table is quite satisfying.

Anyway, back to this dish. When it’s early in the season you only have to remove the broad beans from their large pod (see photo below).

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Later on in the season as their skins become harder it’s best to remove the next layer of skin (see photo below).

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Removing the second layer reveals the tender, sweet inner part of the broad bean which I personally prefer. If you do this they’ll be quicker to cook and they’ll be more appealing to some. Please note however that you’ll probably lose some nutrients by doing this, but I think it’s necessary later in the season.

In regards to the pasta I personally prefer to use wholegrain pasta. The pasta that I buy is more than half wholegrain flour and the rest is regular durum wheat flour, semolina and oat fiber. You can however use any type of spaghetti that you like (just bear in mind differing cooking times- this recipe is for pasta which cooks in 7 minutes). I break the spaghetti up into 6 or more even sized pieces so that you can eat this using a spoon (see photo below). Do this by taking a small handful of spaghetti, hold it with your left hand and snap off small pieces with your right hand.

It’s important to use lots of parsley in this dish and black pepper. The tomatoes add a little colour and flavour. Broad beans take a while to cook but the wait is well worth it. Give this dish a go whilst they’re in season!

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Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 cups broad beans removed from their pods and rinsed

1 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

2.5 teaspoons salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

6 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

1.5 litres water

250 grams wholegrain spaghetti, snapped into 6 or more even lengths (see description above)

Method

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat oil and add the onion. Saute until the onion is translucent, taking care not to burn it.

2. Add the broad beans, 1 teaspoon of salt, the chopped parsley and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

3. Stir using a wooden spoon to coat the broad beans in the oil and seasoning, then lower the gas to a gentle heat and allow to cook slowly, for about 10 minutes.

4. Add the chopped cherry tomatoes and give it all another stir.

5. In a separate saucepan, add the water, cover with a lid and heat it up. Turn it off just before the water comes to the boil.

6. Once the water is ready, add it to the broad beans. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt to the pan, give it a stir then cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook gently over a low heat.

7. Once the broad beans are almost cooked (after approximately 25-30 minutes), throw in the spaghetti. Taste the cooking water and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Ensure that the pasta is submerged in the water by stirring and pushing it down with a wooden spoon. Raise the heat a little and cover with the lid again.

8. After 7 minutes, taste the pasta to see if it’s al dente. If it is, turn off the heat and spoon it into 4 bowls. Serve immediately.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

Globe artichokes stuffed with garlic & parsley

Every year I look forward to when artichokes are in season. I think they’re one of the best tasting vegetables and it doesn’t take much effort to get an amazing side dish out of them. This dish can be made richer by also stuffing the artichokes with breadcrumbs and cheese but I like to cook them really simply with just a garlic and parsley stuffing (keeping things simple is often the best way to show off the true flavours of the star ingredient).

Stuffed artichokes

I remember having this dish in Trastevere and being blown away by the deep flavours and the delicate texture of the artichoke heart. When I eat them now a few years on I’m still taken back to that dish in that wonderful area of Rome.

Artichokes will only be in season for a little while longer so get your hands on some and give this easy yet oh so tasty dish a go!

Ingredients

5 large globe artichokes, stems removed & discarded

1 cup chopped parsley

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

Olive oil

Salt & freshly-ground black pepper

Method

1. Thoroughly wash the artichokes in cold water to remove all dirt (at least 2-3 times).

2. Cut about 1 inch off the tops of the artichokes so that they’re all flat (the tops are quite hard and inedible) and remove any hard outer leaves.

3. Gently separate the leaves using your fingers to make room for the stuffing.

4. Using your fingers, evenly stuff the artichokes with the parsley and garlic.

5. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the stock then place the stuffed artichokes inside, facing upwards. Ensure they all fit in one layer (ie- don’t put the artichokes on top of each other).

6. Season with a little salt and a generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, then cover with a lid and allow the stock to come to a boil.

7. Once it boils, lower the heat and allow to simmer, covered, until the artichokes become tender (30-40 minutes). You’ll know they’re done when you can easily remove the outer leaves. Serve immediately.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!