I remember being confused by all the bright yellow zucchini flowers on the market stands when I arrived in Nice. My family had a few zucchini harvests in our suburban garden, but as far as I could remember, we chucked the flowers and sauteed the slices.
I was intrigued when I saw fleurs de courgettes in the displays of street food vendors, as well as on the menus of Niçoise restaurants. Apparently, the farmers weren’t just selling the pretty flowers as centerpiece decorations as I had originally thought. They’re edible–and by the looks of things, quite popular.
There are two basic ways to eat zucchini flowers: fried or stuffed.
The fried way is pretty straightforward: take those delicate flowers and dip them in a deep-fryer to make beignets. While you can find them at various street food vendors around Old Nice, I don’t think any have beat the ones I tried at La Merenda (4 rue Raoul Bosio). This tiny restaurant doesn’t look like anything special from the outside–and a lack of answering machine and crazy opening hours make reservations necessary but hard to come by–but it only does traditional Niçoise specialties, and it does them well. I think the secret to the success of their beignets de fleurs de courgettes is their freshness. While street vendors typically prepare them ahead of time, La Merenda makes them to order and serves them with a bit of the finest fleur de sel. Perfectly crispy, without overpowering the delicate taste of the flowers. A must-have in Nice.
You can also stuff the zucchini blossoms and bake them–fleurs farcis. Popular stuffings include ricotta cheese and honey, mozzarella cheese and basil, or ricotta with herbs. Fleurs farcis are less common at street vendors, but are usually on the menus of any sitdown restuarant that focuses on Niçoise specialities. I particularly like L’Escalinda, with its red-checkered tablecloths staggered on the steps outside the restaurant. The fleurs farcis here are delicious, particularly served with a nice marinara sauce.
I haven’t attempted les fleurs myself–it’s a lot of work, particularly when all my favorite street vendors are right outside my window. However, My Melange has a great simple recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms.