When my friend, and supremely talented young chef, Atsushi Nakahigashi visited New York last summer, he whipped up some terrific dishes for me (like this one, and this one and this one). Now that he's visiting Gotham once again, I posed a challenge: I asked Atsushi to create a Japanese dish with local produce from the farmers market. So we headed to Union Square, where he carefully surveyed the bounty. Zucchini blossoms with baby zucchinis growing from them caught his eye. But how to prepare them in a Japanese way? Zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh zucchini puree and cooked as tempura was his mouthwatering inspiration. Simple, straightforward and elegant, this dish relies on the zucchini's naturally sweet flavor in its peak season (shun), the crispiness of a simple tempura batter, the delightful creaminess of the puree, and the umami accent of the concentrated dipping sauce. Just amazing. To check out the full recipe, click on "read more" below, after the photos and video. Thanks, Atsushi!
For the dipping sauce
2 cups water
1/4 ounce kombu, about one 6 by 4 inch sheet
4 cups packed katsuobushi
1/4 cup usukuchi soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
For the zucchini puree
2 1/2 zucchini, about 1 1/2 pounds
1/8 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
For the tempura
2 quarts high smoke point vegetable oil, like canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
water, for making batter
1 package zucchini blossoms with baby zucchinis, about 20 blossoms
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and dried, and punctured with a fork
- To make the dipping sauce, add the water and kombu to a medium saucepan and let it seep for 30 minutes.
- Slice 2 zucchini into thin rounds. Set aside. Dice the remaining 1/2 zucchini into tiny 1/4-inch cubes. Set aside.
- Add the zucchini rounds, olive oil and salt to the jar of a blender. Pulse until the zucchini liquefies into a puree, about 2 minutes. At regular intervals, pause the blender and press the zucchini down with a wooden spoon to hasten blending.
- Prepare an ice bath in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Transfer the zucchini puree to a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, until the puree reduces by about a third. Make sure to keep stirring, especially from the bottom of the pan, or the puree will burn.
- Once the puree reduces, fold in the reserved zucchini cubes and transfer the saucepan to the ice bath. Stir the puree until it cools, about 3 to 5 minutes. Leave saucepan in the ice bath and set aside.
- Line a colander with cheesecloth or paper towel (or sarashi) and place inside a mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Once the kombu has seeped in the water for 30 minutes, place the saucepan over medium heat until the liquid boils. Boil for about 5 minutes. Remove the kombu and discard, and turn off the heat. Wait 3 minutes for the liquid to cool slightly, then add the katsuobushi. Press the katsuobushi into the liquid with a large spoon or the bottom of a ladle so all the flakes completely immerse. As soon as the katsuobushi is soaked through, strain using the cheesecloth or paper towen-lined colander to produce a very concentrated dashi for the dipping sauce (much stronger than a dashi used for soup). You will have about 1 1/4 cups of dashi.
- Combine the dashi and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to just a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid is about to boil, turn off the heat and add the usukuchi soy sauce. Stir and set aside. (This process helps to evaporate the alcohol in the mirin, before adding the soy sauce.)
- Place the flour in a bowl and add water, combining to produce a loose, watery batter. Set aside.
- Add the vegetable oil to a heavy pot (an enameled cast iron pot works great). The oil should be at least 2 inches deep. Add more oil if necessary. Place over medium heat until the oil reaches about 170 degrees.
- While the oil is heating, carefully open the zucchini flowers and remove the stigma from the center. Fill each flower with the zucchini puree and then carefully close it. Arrange the flowers on a plate.
- Line a plate with paper towel and set aside. As soon as the oil is hot, quickly dip the stuffed zucchini flower in the batter and add to the oil. Cook in batches, for about 5 minutes, or until the zucchinis are cooked through and golden. When they're ready, transfer to the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until you've cooked all the zucchini.
- Dip the cherry tomatoes into the batter and cook in the oil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they're cooked through. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate.
- Arrange the zucchini blossoms and cherry tomatoes on four plates. Pour the dipping sauce into four small bowls. Serve while hot. Dip the vegetables into the sauce and eat.