Monday, July 5, 2010

A Hard Day's Night II


Squash blossoms are ephemeral beauties: like the morning glory, they open with the morning light and fade by sundown. By the following day, they are shrivelled up yellow wads, barely recognizable as what was once a pretty flower. Yet they are a prized ingredient in many Mediterranean cultures: I've seen chutney-like sauces made with the blossoms, but these flowers are most often stuffed and either fried or steamed. Just the thought of squash blossom fritters makes my mouth water.

Squash blossoms can be found at the farmers' market or in a neighbour's invasive squash patch... whichever is easiest of access. If you do not see them at the market, walk up to any stall with zucchinis or squash for sale, and ask them if blossoms can be ordered: since the flowers are very perishable, some farmers only sell squash blossoms by reservation. If you really cannot find any, you might have better luck with a gardener friend or even your compost pile! While most winter squashes are a little too unwieldy for a balcony garden, zucchinis and other summer squashes will easily grow and produce abundantly in a pot: if you're not holding your breath for a bumper crop of zukes, it isn't too late to pot up a plant or two.

Though yesterday's harvest may seem a little small, it made for a copious plate for one, but could have easily been a starter for two, or appetizers for three or five... you get the picture.

But a meal for one it was. Every last bit on that platter was turned into a simple dinner that took no more than 20 minutes from start to finish. Really, it's that easy. I'll admit I did take a few shortcuts, forgoing steps that seem so important at the restaurant when producing food for paying customers. But I was feeding me, it was getting late, and I was famished.

Squash blossoms are either male or female. Both are edible, though you are more likely to find male flowers, as they are most abundant on the plant. The female flowers have a baby squash attached to its bottom end, whereas the male has a regular stem. Both flowers are somewhat prickly, and if you have sensitive skin, you should handle the blossoms with caution: gently rubbing your hands under warm, running water should rid your skin from embedded stingers.

To prep the flowers for eating, carefully wash them to remove any dirt or clandestine traveller, then gently pry the petals open: inside you will find the sexual organ. While it is perfectly edible, the organs are not particularly palatable, some find them rather bland, while others distinguish an unpleasant bitterness. Either way, both the anther and the stigma are relatively large, and take up precious real-estate that can be put to better use with some stuffing, so they should be cut out. Your squash blossoms are now ready to eat.

You can stuff the blossoms with whatever you like, including your favourite turkey stuffing. The simplest recipe calls for shreds of fresh mozzarella (bocconcini) or Mozzarella di Buffala, but any cheese would be delectable (Sage Derby will soon be in season, and would probably be heavenly!) Figuring out how many blossoms to buy will depend on how big your wallet is, but one or two is enough for an appetizer; three, with a few leaves of salad on the side will suffice for a starter or a side dish; but you will need at least five for a main course. The following recipe is merely a suggestion based on what I happen to have in the garden, use it as a guideline, but most of all, use your imagination!

Stuffed Squash Blossoms
For 5 blossoms

5 medium to large squash blossoms, prepped
5 small to medium radishes or baby turnips, with the leaves
5 sugar snap peas, snow peas, or 10 fresh peas, shelled
5 large leaves of basil
2 cloves new garlic
50g (1.79 oz) cheese (I used some extra-sharp, aged Cheddar)
salt and pepper to taste (but keep in mind the saltiness of you cheese)
olive oil for frying


Shred or finely chop all ingredients, except for the squash blossoms.
Mix to combine well, taste for seasoning.
Stuff the blossoms: you can pack in the stuffing, most blossoms should take about 2-3 tablespoons' worth of stuffing before tearing.
Fold the petals over like for a parcel. Keep the package closed by placing the blossoms petal-end down.
In a frying pan, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium setting.
When the oil starts to shimmer, place the bell-shaped parcels in the oil, flat side down.
After about 15 seconds, flick the blossoms onto their sides, turning them every 10 seconds, until every side is lightly browned.

Serve with a small salad, if you feel the need. A splash of balsamic vinegar might be called for, but the oozing cheese should be enough of a sauce for most.


I was thoroughly stuffed with the five bites of blossoms, though bigger appetites may require more. Buttery, fried breadcrumbs would have been a pleasant addition to the stuffing, but I didn't have any bread to hand. If you want to attempt fritters, it is easiest to twist the petal ends before dipping them in the batter, stem end first. Plunge in the hot oil, whilst holding the petal end for 5 seconds, giving the batter enough time to set the end shut (just make sure your fingers are not in the oil!)

Bon app'!




2 comments:

  1. I must thank you for this recipe, which is going to become a summertime staple. When I got home from the market Sunday with my flowers (zucchini I think) and checked your recipe on line I realised that I had every ingredient you mention: old cheddar (organic!), radishes (hot ones!) and fresh basil. After my appetizer came an artichoke slowly effeuillé (idle hands are the devil's playthings!) and a few little baby potatoes, drizzled in the leftover olive oil from frying the flowers (waste not want not!).

    Thanks again.

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