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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fleur de Courgette - The Courgette Flower; in the USA the Zucchini Flower.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated February 2018.
The courgette/ zucchini flower.
Before the courgette/zucchini flower, there was the fruit itself.
The courgette, zucchini in the USA, was developed in northern Italy from squash brought from Central or South America.  An Italian book entitled “Orticoltura”  (2nd edition) is the first known reference to the zucchini/ courgette; the book’s author was Domenico Tamaro, and it was published in 1901. Tamaro called the zucchini the “zucca quarantina vera nana, “  the forty-day true dwarf zucca; zucca is Italian for pumpkin and squash.   From Northern Italy, the zucchini reached France and the rest of Europe
Until the 1860’s the city of Nice on France’s Cote d’ Azure belonged to Italy and so it not surprising that this vegetable  (actually a fruit) is an integral part of Cuisine Niçoise, especially ratatouille where the zucchini/courgette stars.
The female zucchini plant with its single flower.
Courgette, zucchini, flowers are fresh for just a few days, so every day the fields must be checked for new blooming flowers; then they are quickly and lightly packed for the restaurants and farmer’s markets where they will be sold. For your local supermarket to have courgette flowers, they will have to have excellent local sourcing connections and daily supplies. 

The flowers of the courgette/zucchini have a delicate aroma and to eat them uncooked they must be really fresh as the flower is all about texture.  If you have the chance try the flowers uncooked and stuffed with cream cheese, you will appreciate the scent and feel the flower on your tongue and then the cheese flavoring.  When deep fried, you are left only with the texture and correctly prepared the stuffing will pop as you put pressure on the flower in your mouth.
The courgette/zucchini flower dishes of France vary considerably.  Some are lightly stuffed with vegetables or seafood and presented as entrée (the French first course), and that may be a full plate of ten or fifteen flowers. Others are densely stuffed with goat’s cheese or salmon so that three or four flowers are offered as a garnish. The preferred method of cooking is overwhelmingly deep-frying.

The male zucchini/ courgette flowers.

The Courgette (Zucchini) flowers on French Menus:
Fleur de Courgette Farcie aux Écrevisses et Poularde, Sauce Nantua - Courgette (zucchini) flowers stuffed with crayfish tails and the meat from a young, spayed, and fattened chicken, accompanied by Sauce Nantua.
Sauce Nantua is a butter sauce, originally made with the crayfish for which the town of Nantua was once famous. Today, due to over-fishing the crayfish will not be local.  Nonetheless, the beautiful lake Nantua bordering the town is a watersport center.  Nantua is in the department of Ain which is part of the old province of Bresse.  By local sourcing their produce and food products the chefs of Nantua will be working with one of France’s AOP butters, the Beurre de Bresse AOP and one of France’s only two AOP creams the Crème de Bresse AOP.  Also from Ain come the Bresse Bleu, Bleu de Gex AOP, and Comte AOP cheeses; all that along with France's only AOP poultry, the Volaille de Bresse AOP.   
Fleur de Courgette Farcie aux Gambas - Courgette flowers stuffed with large shrimps.

Fleurs de Courgette Farcies aux Petits Légumes – Courgette flowers stuffed with tender young vegetables.
Fleurs de Courgettes au Crabe TourteauTartare de Courgette, Estragon, Granny Smith – Courgette flowers stuffed with the meat of the edible brown crab and served with a Tartar of courgettes and Granny Smith apples flavored with tarragon. The edible brown crab with its firm white meat is the most popular crab in France

Male zucchini flowers.
Fleur de Courgette Farcie à La Mousse De Saumon, Jus De Ratatouille – Courgette flowers stuffed with salmon mouse and the sauce from ratatouilleThe most important vegetable in a ratatouille is the courgette/ zucchini, and so here the flower flavored with the vegetable’s cooking juices.
Fleurs de Courgettes Farcies et Frites de Panisse aux Olives du Pays, Jus au Romarin – Courgette flowers stuffed with panisse and local olives and served with a Rosemary flavored sauce.  Panisses are made with farine de pois chiche, chickpea flour, in a variety of shapes and deep fried and traditionally served on their own with salt; today an optional addition of grated Parmesan cheese may be offered. Panisse began as a fast food from the City if Nice on the Mediterranean. Panisse would be bought hot and eaten on the go. Now in fine restaurants, a panisse may be used as a garnish or served with a salad or have morphed into a dessert with added fruit.

Courgette flowers in the market.
Fleurs de Courgettes en Beignets avec Chèvre et Ricotta - Courgette flowers stuffed with goats’ cheese and ricotta and deep fried. Ricotta is a cheese that originated in Italy, but the fresh ricotta will be locally made, and most French ricotta cheeses are made with goat’s milk. Beignets in French is the word used for nearly all deep fried dishes as well as for French doughnuts.
In France, the courgette/zucchini flower season runs for nearly three months; from June through August    The female flower is a single yellow flower that grows at the end of the fruit. The more abundant male zucchinis grow on separate stalks near the female plants; the flowers taste the same and have the same texture. 

Preparing the zucchini/ corvette flowers
In France zucchini is the key ingredient in ratatouille, that famous Provencal stew of vegetables prepared in olive oil and cooked for an extended time over low heat. The dish, originating near present-day Nice, is served as a side dish or on its own for a light lunch served with bread.
Deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with tuna.
Photograph courtesy of Mathew Kinghorn
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Bryan G. Newman
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