There’s a hole in the wall. A great, big, smacking hole. The Mother-in-Law – in what some of us in the house may have described as a slightly bonkers move – decided to put a wood-burning stove in one of the bedrooms, at the height of summer.
An irregular shaped room, the ‘Orange Room’ is to become The Mother-in-Law’s domain; a place for her to meditate, read, pen missives and, mostly, snooze. (Don’t be fooled, this is not her bedroom – that’s just down the hall. This is where she will sleep in between sleeping.) Formerly known as ‘Buzz’s Room’ before he buzzed off and The Mother-in-Law decided to paint the walls a caustic shade of tangerine, it is now reputed amongst house guests whose eyes burn upon waking. And soon, thanks to the wood-burner, The Mother-in-Law will be able to toast her toes at the same time as her retinas.
I’m being unfair. Since we moved in, the vestiges of the past thirty years are rapidly being cloaked with crayon, wooden toys, Marmite paw prints, and the paraphernalia that comes with a young family of four. The grown-up garden thick with rose, fushia, bamboo, and peony, is now strewn with murky-watered paddling pool, multi-coloured toys, and scorch marks where my feral children piss in the corners of the lawn. The Mother-in-Law made way for us and now she needs a retreat.
The hole-making happened rather swiftly, accompanied by the thumping sound of mallet on brick and a thick cloud of dust that hung in the air like a swarm of blurry bees. The event drew fascination from the children whose little faces peered round the door every evening with great excitement, as if a magical creature might crawl out of the growing hollow at that moment.
And as the walls disintegrate indoors, my vegetable patch continues to multiply outdoors. The Secret Garden is pushing up baby carrots and beetroot, broccoli, beans and potatoes, spinach, lettuce and cucumbers. The greenhouse is a hot box swelling with vegetation, and yesterday I made one of the most perfect and delicate dishes I’ve had the fortune to both grow and cook.
Known in Italy as ‘fiori di zucca fritti‘, which translates as fried zucchini (courgette) flowers, this dish is a beautiful way to use the often overlooked parts of the courgette plant that grow ahead of the better known fruits that we eat. It’s a crying shame that these blossoms aren’t more available in British greengrocers, so I’ll urge you to grow your own. Courgettes are easy-peasy to look after and you can raise them in a container, as I did the first time I grew some on a small patio in London town.
Over the past week, I’d been collecting courgette blossoms from my two burgeoning plants growing in the greenhouse. Every morning the kids and I would nip outside to snap a neatly-closed, pointed yellow flower or two, and pop them in plastic bag, which was then sealed and kept in the fridge until I was ready to use them.
Indulgent as it may be, I couldn’t wait to make them for dinner so we had them for breakfast, sitting on the doorstep in the morning sun with Ian, The Mother-in-Law’s Gardener. It beat muesli, hands down.
This recipe serves two adults and two children as a starter. Just double the recipe if you have more flowers and more mouths to feed.
6-7 courgette flowers
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
Zest of half an unwaxed lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
3 heaped tablespoons of spelt flour
1/2 tablespoon cornflour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
100ml ice-cold sparkling mineral water (this needs to be cold, straight from the fridge)
1 litre ground nut or sunflower oil for deep-frying
If still intact, very carefully remove the pistil or stamen (male and female reproductive organs) of the courgette flowers by gently opening the flower and snapping off with either fingers or a small paring knife.
Now carefully remove the little green spiny leaves on the outside of the flower (gardeners, what are these bits called?!).
Check for insects and dirt, and gently remove. Set aside.
Prepare your filling by mixing all the ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Now fill the flowers: gently pull back the petals and carefully put two or three teaspoons of filling inside.
Close the flower by twisting the top of the petals together so that the filling is completely enclosed in the package. Set aside whilst you make the batter and heat the oil.
Combine the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the water, whisking to remove any lumps.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, to about 180c or until a bit of batter turns golden within a minute or so.
Holding each flower by the twisted part of the petals, coat in the batter and carefully place in the hot oil. Cook in two batches, turning each flower in the oil to ensure an even colour.
When golden, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.
Alternative serving suggestion: make these for pudding by replacing the salt and pepper with the seeds from a vanilla pod, and drizzle the fried flowers with honey.