I love produce markets. The bleariness of waking up early, the commute with your enviro bags stuffed into your pockets, and turning the corner into the market and scouting out the crowd. The crowd’s hum of excitement, the amazing smells of fresh produce and the stalls busily churning out sizzling bacon and egg rolls, and the sheer enthusiasm of the stall holders when they talk about what’s new.
Eveleigh Markets is one of my favourite farmers’ markets in Sydney, filled to the roof with Inner West hipsters with their straw baskets and knit-wearing pooches. It’s hard not to feel the excitement when you see so many of the big names in the catering and food industry: Sonoma, the Bread and Butter Project by Bourke Street Bakery, and once in a while you might see Kylie Kwong flipping an Asian breakfast omelette at the Billy Kwong stall. If I lived locally, I’d make an effort to come here every weekend or so – just to pick up one or two things at a time. As a result of living on the other side of the Bridge I purchase more than I can carry and struggle home with it all; the apples are always the heaviest – the taste of a shiny supermarket apple pales significantly in comparison to its unwanted market counterparts.
I was visiting a couple of Saturday or two ago with a good friend who has a habit of buying me things when my back is turned. I left her alone to do her own shopping, and then when I meet her she’s bought me a whole bag full of fresh ingredients “for you to experiment with”. Golden beets, zucchini flowers, artichokes, an “exotic weeds” salad mix, and marinated chevre. While I’ve seen these ingredients many times, I don’t really buy them as living on my own means I usually can’t be bothered to experiment with anything that will require too much fuss. But she had bought these “mystery box” ingredients for me, and so I darted around the closing stalls and got a few things to go with them including beautifully blushing heirloom tomatoes, a bunch of basil, and a bunch of rhubarb and some un-waxed apples for a tasty pie.
With my girlfriend coming over for our regular Monday night dinner, I decided to do a “Meat-Free Monday” with Tempura Zucchini Flowers and an Heirloom Tomato and Golden Beet Salad, finishing it off with an Apple and Rhubarb Pie (which I will write a post on its own for). I spent most of my Sunday prepping the ingredients, including mixing the ricotta filling for the flowers and roasting the beets, cooking down the pie ingredients and making the pastry to rest overnight. With the two small artichokes I scratched my head at for a while, then decided to marinate them in chilli, garlic and olive oil with a bay leaf and use it for an antipasti dish for the hot summer months.
This was surprisingly my first time making Tempura Zucchini Flowers. As I said, I cook for myself only most of the time and while I’ve stared longingly at the packs of pretty flowers I didn’t want to eat six or seven fried and stuffed flowers on my own. Luckily Night Owl was coming over to help me out.
You will need:
- Six or so zucchini flowers;
- 4 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced;
- 1 anchovy;
- 4 small basil leaves;
- 100g fresh ricotta;
- 50g plain flour;
- 2 teaspoons olive oil;
- 75ml chilled light beer (I used a German wheat beer);
- 1 eggwhite;
- vegetable or light olive oil, for frying;
- Lemon wedges, to serve.
Holding a zucchini flower upside down, use your thumbs to gently make a split in the flower. The petals are very delicate! Use your fingertips to snap off and discard the yellow stamens in the centre of the flower, and repeat with the others.
While I was doing this I was making jokes about de-sexing the flowers. Can’t take me anywhere.
Finely chop the olives, anchovy and basil before placing it in a bowl with the ricotta, seasoning to taste with pepper. Spoon a tablespoonful of ricotta mixture into the centre of each flower, then twist the petal ends to enclose.
For the batter, place the flower and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Add the oil and beer and whisk until a smooth batter forms. In another bowl, whisk the egg white to soft peaks form before gently folding it into the batter.
Line a tray with paper towels. Fill the bottom of a deep saucepan or deep fryer with oil, then heat over medium heat until 180 degrees (you can also do the cube of bread test – it should brown in 15 seconds). Working in batches of three, dip the flowers one at a time into the batter, allowing the excess to drain off, then deep fry for two minutes until golden. You may need to rotate them if they are large.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the tray before repeating with the remaining flowers and batter. Scatter with salt and serve piping hot and crispy with the lemon wedges.
Oh, and if you want to know what went into this amazing heirloom tomato salad:
I washed and tore up the leaves from the “exotic weeds” salad mix, and added segments of the sweet golden beets* I roasted the day before, and slices of the heirloom tomatoes. Scatter over pieces of goat’s cheese (chevre), truffle-infused balsamic vinegar, and I blitzed together a quick pesto with a bunch of basil, single clove of garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.
*Beets you can roast for an hour in a preheated oven at 200 degrees – wrap each individually (skin-on) in foil and add a couple of teaspoons of water to each. Beets are ready when pierced easily with a skewer (like a potato). Remove, open the foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling the skins off.