I had almost forgotten how glorious springtime in Veneto can be. How warm the May sun can shine, and how pleasant it is to eat lunch outside with the white roses intertwined around the wooden pergola. How early strawberries ripen here, and how late the sun sets. I had almost forgotten how much I yearned for some proper spring weather in the past four years, despite the blooming magnolias and the dangling wisteria. I am reminded now, here, sitting at my old desk, the window wide open and a sweet scent of orange blossoms blowing from the garden.
Two weeks in my homeland and I’ve already fallen into some good old habits: munching on pan biscotto (some local sort of crunchy bread) while waiting for lunch; circling the house and the garden multiple times throughout the day in search for ideas; going for long walks turned into foraging expeditions; and drinking too much espresso, sometimes with a dash of grappa, too, usually on Sundays. Whenever we go for walks together, Dad joins me in my foraging efforts, mostly because he loves weeds as much as I do. On our last trip, for instance, we found dandelion, nettle, and bruscandoli (wild hops), the holy trinity of Venetian wild edible plants. We picked two bagfuls in total, then proceeded to wash them and turn them into a huge skillet of stir-fried greens with pancetta, a nettle frittata, and a risotto with wild hops, which were still surprisingly tender and reminiscent of rosemary.
And now that the last of the young shoots and leaves have morphed into tough grown-ups, it’s time to pick edible wildflowers. Late spring is their moment. Florid bushy trees of elderflower (sambuco) and black locust (faux acacia or robinia, or simply acacia as Italians call them) grow between parcels of land. Their branches have been heavy with flowers for weeks now – one can smell them before even seeing them. Black locust flowers – dangling clusters of tiny, intensely perfumed white flowers – are slowly coming to an end, though many trees are still in bloom: we have been picking basketfuls of flowers to fill every vase in the house, their beauty and sweetness a fleeting bliss before they fade and wither and bend, spent. Many have been reserved for the kitchen, too, and destined to a dip in cold batter and a jump in hot oil. Frying flowers is hardly a novelty – think about squash blossoms – but it seems to be one of the best and most classic ways to enjoy edible varieties like acacia. Besides, I find eating flowers quite poetic, most especially when their sweet flavour is enclosed in a crisp shell and enhanced by a light veil of sugar or a drizzle of honey – a savoury version would be just as heavenly served as a snack with a glass of prosecco.
Putting the fritters aside for a moment, I am reminded that another old habit I happily re-embraced in these past two weeks at home is cooking from cookbooks. I went on a cookbook fast of sorts while in Sydney, mostly because I was busy writing & testing mine (I still am!), but also because all of my literary possessions were stored in boxes in my parents’ garage. However, now that I am reunited with them and can finally pick them up and cook and recall of how much brilliance there is in the cookery world, I thought to start a new series of posts featuring some favourite recipes from favourite cookbooks, old and new. I like to think of it as a way to exchange impressions and helpful tips to navigate the current vast cookbook market; as well as an excuse to keep track of what I have on hand as I acquire more and more and more books (because I know I will), and to finally tackle some of those long bookmarked recipes I never got around to make or some long-time staples I never managed to share. (Incidentally, some friends have just published or are soon going to publish their debut books and I am eager to cook and share here soon.)
Back to the fritters: they hold their place among other stupendous recipes in Mimi Thorisson‘s debut cookbook My Kitchen in France – a book that causes much daydreaming about one day owning a country house with a big wooden table and lots of loaves of bread and onions all over it. I owned the book for a while and tried some of the sweet recipes ( the orange blossom brioche and the chocolate meringues deserve a special mention) but I have eyed some savoury, too, the oxtail macaroni gratin being just one of them. The book is organised seasonally (something I love about cookbooks!), and the recipe for acacia fritters is, of course, included in the spring section – tucked between photos of a huge, flourishing black locust tree shadowing Mimi, her children and some of her dogs, and the image of an inviting plate of fritters, nicely covered by a light snowfall of icing sugar and paired with what appears to be some syrupy dessert wine. The concept per se is not foreign – making
The concept per se is not foreign – making frittelle di acacia is common practice in many Italian regions as it is in France – but Mimi’s batter recipe is novel and intriguing: milk, eggs, sugar, and beer all feature. The mixture is chilled prior to frying in order to create a temperature shock and a crisper outcome. Fritters are then served with a dusting of sugar, though some, particularly in Italy, prefer drizzling the lot with honey, best if from acacia flowers itself.
Acacia (Black Locust) Flower Fritters
Adapted from a recipe in My Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson
240 g / 2 cups all purpose (00) flour
50 g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of fine grain sea salt
2 large eggs
200 ml / 3/4 cup milk
150 ml /2/3 cup lager beer
1 tablespoon rum
30-35 small branches of acacia flowers (unsprayed), rinsed and dried
Vegetable oil, for frying
Icing sugar or acacia honey
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt , eggs, milk, beer and rum until well combined into a smooth batter. Refrigerate for half an hour.
Heat 4 cm of oil in a medium, high-edged frying pan. When it reaches the right temperature – about 170°C/350°F, which you can test by dropping a few drops of batter in and seeing if they sizzle and turn brown within seconds – dip a first batch (6-7) of flowers in the batter, drain slightly, then fry until golden-brown, about 3 minutes per side. Carry on with the rest until you’ve done all the flowers or you ran out of batter.
Drain the fritters with a slotted spoon and ease them on a platter covered with paper towels. Dust with icing sugar or drizzle with honey and serve immediately.
More acacia goodness:
Giulia makes acacia fritters the traditional Tuscan way
Emiko shares some fantastic tips on kitchen uses of edible flowers on Food52
Mimi does it again with a beautiful acacia cake
Elizabeth Minchilli has a video on how to fry flowers like a pro