Cooking Zucchini, Whether Flower, Fruit, or Leaf


Faith Willinger

To try Faith's recipe for a carpaccio of thinly sliced zucchini with olive oil and herbs, click here.

The first zucchini of the season—tender, tiny—and a bag of zucchini flowers from my favorite farmers, the Innocenti brothers, are celebrated in my kitchen. In Italian zucchini is female (zucchina, singular, zucchine, plural), a vegetable that's the result of the small but functional female flower's fertilization by the big flashy, stemmed male flower (il fiore, masculine).

After the act, males are unproductive, fried in batter by most Italian cooks. Not me. I stuff male flowers with ricotta—place ricotta in a pastry bag, insert into flower, and squeeze (neatness doesn't count), put stuffed flowers in a layer in a non-stick pan, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, cover and cook over medium heat for five minutes. The moisture from the ricotta will steam the flowers. Chopped male or female flowers, sautéed in extra virgin with garlic, make a fantastic sauce for pasta or can flavor risotto. Italian farmers sell the female vegetable with its flower attached, clearly not practical for supermarket sales, since female flowers wilt and die rather quickly.

I make zucchini carpaccio, slicing the vegetable into thin rounds with a ceramic blade mandoline straight onto the platter, and use a potato peeler to slice strips of Parmigiano or Pecorino on top. I season the slices with salt and pepper, then drizzle them with extra virgin and garnish with chopped female flowers and the season's first basil. See recipe below.

I sauté thinly sliced zucchini with extra virgin, green just-formed but skin-less garlic, and basil, to serve as a side dish, with leftovers used as a condiment for pasta with the addition of Parmigiano-Reggiano or as the vegetal element in a frittata. If I had access to a garden, I'd pick the tender first leaves, zucchini tendrils, and stew them in extra virgin with garlic, zucchini chunks, and chopped flowers, a dish I've enjoyed in Campania, Puglia, and Sicilia. Beg your source to pick small females and harvest male flowers and maybe even some tendrils. And enjoy zucchini at its best, in season.

Recipe: Zucchini Carpaccio

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at

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