Yesterday I cooked stuffed courgette flowers – anthóus. Not an easy dish to make in England. It is hard to come by the perfect, golden, courgette blooms – unless you grow your own, or maybe have a tame allotment owner, ready to divest their prize vegetables of the flowers. The other day, though I came across a totally unexpected supply.
“Come and see this”, said my neighbour, guiding me out through his newsagent shop, to the abandoned garden behind. There, under a grim, grey Yorkshire sky were dozens of courgette plants, all in full bloom.
‘Help yourself – take what you want..” his invitation a gesture of kindness and friendship. An act that took me back to my first encounter with the making of anthoús and another act of generosity.
Many years ago, when I was first living in Greece, I loved seeing the splendid saffron-coloured flowers in the market but had no idea what to do with them. They seemed too delicate to handle, let alone stuff and cook. That was until I had a master class in how to make this beautiful dish.
My teacher was a neighbour, Kyrá Marió.
Kyrá Marió was, in the 1980’s when I got to know her, one of those head-scarved old ladies that we all see in small Greek towns and villages. Every morning, the brown door of her little, white house would open and exactly three rush-seated chairs would be placed on the pavement. And there Marió would be for most of the day. Passing neighbours would stop and chat; those with a little more time, taking one of the chairs for a little while to exchange local gossip and remark on the tourists – the curious beings that now inhabited their world. When, eventually, I was invited to sit and chat with her, I couldn’t have been more proud.
Then one day, I commented on the courgette blooms in the market and how I didn’t know how to cook them.
“Paidthí-moú, if you bring them here, I will show you how.” said Kyrá Marió, and she told me the list of ingredients.
At the old market in Kos town, I bought parsley, dill, the long, shiny plum tomatoes, popular on the island, spring onions and glorious, sun-coloured courgette flowers – still wide open and full of the morning light.
In Kyrá Marió’s little kitchen, I watched as she chopped, mixed and, eventually, stuffed the flowers. Once set to cook on the little gas burner, I popped back to work and a little while later, I was presented with a pan of fragrant, golden parcels.
As I have said before, food can be a time machine – invoking passed times, people and places. So, when, through the kindness of my neighbour in Sheffield, I came to make anthoús again, my thoughts went to dear Kyrá Marió, and her wonderful friendship.
Anthoús – Stuffed Courgette Flowers
12 – 15 courgette flowers – gently rinsed and the stamens removed. Just gently pinch them out with your finger tips
190 – 220 grammes long grain rice, rinsed well and drained
1 bunch of spring onions, or a small leek, very finely chopped
1 large (or 2 medium) ripe tomatoes, the flesh coarsely grated
150 -180 ml olive oil
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Small bunch, of dill, finely chopped
A few fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped (optional)
A large courgette or two, sliced longwise
In a shallow pan or frying pan, heat half the olive oil.
Add the chopped spring onion (or chopped leek) and gently cook until soft.
Add the chopped herbs, and cook gently for a few minutes.
Add the grated tomato flesh, salt and pepper, and cook for a further couple of minutes.
Add the washed, drained rice. Increase the heat a little, and cook until the rice has just started to loose its hardness, and has absorbed most of the moisture. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Put a drop of olive oil a medium sized pan, and spread it around the base. Line the bottom of the pan with the slices of courgette.
Now, take a courgette flower, put a small teaspoonful of the rice mixture into the heart of the flower and close the petals over. Some times, gently twisting the petals closed and tucking them under, works well.
Lay the little bloom-parcels on top of the courgette layers. Repeat this with each bloom, tucking them snuggly next to each other. They need to be fairly tightly packed together.
Now, put a small plate or saucer on top – just to hold them in place.
Add about 200ml of water (and a little salt), add the rest of the olive oil.
Bring to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Carefully remove the plate and check that the rice has cooked. If necessary, return the plate, adding a little more water if required and cook for a few more minutes.
When cooked, allow to cool slightly and gently put each of the little parcels on a serving dish.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, as part of a mezé or as an addition to a meal of other stuffed vegetables.