The Genuine Kitchen: Tempura Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella

James Beard Award nominee Chef Michael Schwartz of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink brings his knowledge to your home cooking with a new column, The Genuine Kitchen. With each installment, he'll discuss an ingredient or theme and then deliver a recipe. Questions or comments? Email [email protected] or follow Chef on Twitter @chefmschwartz.

So I've got a soft spot for flowers.  I know, I know...  Zucchini blossoms aren't exactly the most masculine things growing in the garden, but they sure are easy to transform into two-bite treats that taste amazing.

Zucchini blossoms are just now starting to turn up in farmers markets, a sign that our growing season is back.  I can't wait to get them into the kitchen.  They are great by themselves, sauteed simply with a little butter and salt, but stuffed and fried, they are elevated to something even more special. The hollow core of these delicate yellow and green buds makes for the perfect vessel to carry just the right amount of filling. It's as if they sprout ready for this job!

Definitely feel free to get creative and tweak this recipe, substituting different fillings depending on what you're in the mood for.  The basic idea is stuffing the buds with a semi-soft cheese, being careful not to overdo it, and frying them up with a lightly crisp coating that doesn't compete with paper-thin texture of the petals -- in this case a cold, tempura-style batter.  I love combining a fresh, cows milk mozzarella with the pow of lemon zest and fragrant basil, and a dash of bread crumbs for the oozing cheese to cling to as it melts.  Now if that isn't stuff with swagger, I don't know what is.

Tempura Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella

Makes 10 blossoms

4 cups of canola oil, for frying
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 a lemon, zested
1 tablespoon bread crumbs
3 basil leaves, in a fine chiffonade
1/2 teaspoon salt
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh zucchini blossoms
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup cold, plain soda water or seltzer
1 cup ice cubes

Heat the oil to 350˚F in a countertop electric fryer or deep pot. If you don't have a deep-fry thermometer, a good way to test if the oil is hot enough is to stick the end of a wooden spoon or chop stick in it, if bubbles circle around the end then you're good to go.

While the oil is heating, combine cheese, lemon zest, bread crumbs, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. With a regular spoon, mix to combine the ingredients until fully incorporated. Carefully spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture into the core of each blossom. Using the palm of one hand and the fingers of another, lightly wrap the petals around the cheese mixture to seal so that none is exposed, gently twirling the tip. Place all 10 stuffed blossoms on large plate.

Add flour and cornstarch to a medium-sized bowl and loosely stir with regular spoon. Add soda water and ice, again loosely stirring to combine until tiny bubbles form on the surface and the ice cubes are still very much intact. Do not over-mix -- the batter should be thinner than you think.

Head to the stove with the blossoms,  batter, a slotted spoon, and few pieces of paper towel.

Working in batches of three, dip about the blossoms at a time into the batter to lightly coat.  Pinching the tips with your fingers, carefully pick up each bundle and lower them one at a time into the hot oil.  No more than three blossoms should be cooking together at the same time so the oil stays up to temperature.  After about 2 minutes of frying, flip them over and cooked for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.  The batter should not turn brown, but change from pale ivory to light beige when they are finished.  Remove each with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel to soak up any excess grease.  Lightly salt while hot.

To serve, try a accompanying these beauties with a fresh, raw dip such as my Parsley Sauce (recipe below) to brighten the flavors and cut the grease from frying.  Savor while hot.

Parsley Sauce

Just like pesto, this no cook "green sauce" (which is not related to the Mexican tomatillo salsa of the same name) can be used in so many ways. It's awesome spooned over grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, pork, and lamb or as a dip for crudités, or focaccia. The parsley sauce can be made ahead of time but is best when blended at the last minute to keep the deep green color.

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, firmly packed, washed and dried
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 anchovies in oil, drained
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put the parsley, capers, anchovies, garlic, pepper, and oil in a blender. Purée until the mixture is completely smooth and bright green. The sauce should be wet and slightly soupy in consistency.