Seasonally speaking, chief amongst the many good things we can say about summer must surely be our ability to obtain locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Truly, I can think of few things better than the pleasure I derive from the hour or so of leisurely shopping I do each and every Saturday at our celebrated Oak Park Farmers Market.

This year, thanks to the Herculean efforts of my landlord, Dave, summer has become even more meaningful (and shopping more convenient), with his planting of a bountiful vegetable garden that has happily found a new home right in our own backyard. And while the variety of this humble garden may not match the assortment of a Nichol’s Farm, the carefully selected items Dave has chosen are a welcome, long-sought remedy to the mediocre produce we all have to endure the rest of the year. Home-grown tomatoes top the list, of course, and then there is the ubiquitous zucchini.

Everyone who has a garden, it seems, grows zucchini. But everyone who grows zucchini may not be aware of one of the true delicacies in the world of vegetables — namely, zucchini blossoms.

Zucchini blossoms are the bell-shaped, orange flowers of the zucchini plant. In culinary preparations, zucchini is treated as a vegetable. Botanically, zucchini is actually a fruit. The zucchini itself is the swollen ovary plant just below the zucchini flower that appears on the female plant. The male plant does not produce a fruit; therefore, you should pick blossoms from the male plant.

Zucchini blossoms open in the morning and close by mid-afternoon, so pick them early. If you can’t use them right away, wrap them in moist paper towels and keep them in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for up to four days. There are numerous preparations for Zucchini blossoms, some of which are stuffed with soft cheese such as ricotta or mozzarella. As always, I opt for the method that does the least to compromise the natural goodness of the blossom itself. Here’s my favorite way:

Pan-Fried Zucchini Blossoms – Serves 4

24 male zucchini blossoms (with stems)

2 to 3 cups vegetable oil (peanut or grape seed is best), enough to come 1 inch up the side of a 12-inch skillet

²/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cold water

Salt for seasoning after frying

  • Gently wash the zucchini blossoms and dry them suspended upside down
  • Remove the pistol from each flower
  • Cut the stems to about 1 inch from the blossom
  • Make sure the blossoms are dry!

For the batter

  • Place 1 cup of water in a medium-size mixing bowl
  • Gradually add the flour, sifting it through a sieve and stirring constantly with a fork or wire whisk. It should have the consistency of heavy whipping cream
  • Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat
  • When the oil is hot, dip the blossoms in the batter and slip only as many as will fit loosely in the skillet
  • Fry for a few minutes on each side until crisp and golden
  • Drain on paper towels
  • Season with salt to taste and serve

Note: If you don’t have a garden, Farmers markets should have them for the next couple of weeks. If you haven’t tasted them, you don’t know what you’re missing!

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...