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Discover Squash Blossoms!

Original post made by Jacqui Love Marshall on Sep 18, 2010

Until recently, I had only heard of squash blossoms but I had never eaten them. In August, I tasted a mouth-watering dish of them as a first course at a local vineyard's restaurant and I was instantly enthralled. A week later I was hunting them down at the Danville Farmer's Market. I had just about abandoned my search when I found them on the last aisle, packed by the dozen at a vendor's booth. I was one happy camper but now I had to discover how to cook them. To my further delight, the zucchini plant in my backyard garden produced two of its own, making me wonder if I had just not recognized them there before.

If you are up for the squash blossom adventure, your first task will be finding or picking the blossoms. Squash blossoms come in two varieties -- male and female -- and they're both edible. You can tell the females by the fact that they are attached to the zucchini bud whereas the males have stems like regular flowers. The ones pictured above are males. Plus, if you can recall from your high school biology class, the females have pistils and the males have stamens. You can leave these in when you prepare the flowers to be eaten, but a chef-friend suggested I remove them with a gentle twist as sometimes they can be bitter. Some say the females taste better, but you'll lose any potential squash along with them so it's "safer" to take the males. As long as you have a single male flower on your plant, all of the females can be pollinated. When handling any of the blossoms, be gentle. It's a small challenge not to damage the flower, but one well worth the effort.

There are infinite variations on how to cook the blossoms to bring out their maximum flavor and I'd imagine that most of the recipes are delicious. Here are five great ways to enjoy serve squash blossoms:

o Fried: Around the world, frying is one of the most popular
ways to prepare squash blossoms. Simply batter and fry them
or stuff them first. Cheeses (ricotta, fresh mozzarella, goat
cheese) and herbs (basil, thyme, parsley) make good fillings.

o Baked: If deep frying doesn't appeal to you, stuff the
blossoms with cheese and then bake them in the oven. Steaming
is another healthy option.

o Quesadilla: In Mexico, where they're known as flores de
calabaza, squash blossoms are abundant and often used in
quesadillas.

o Soup: Try making a fresh, summery soup with squash blossoms,
zucchini, and corn.

o Pasta: You can make a chiffonade of squash blossoms to serve
over pasta, risotto, or salad. The blossoms can also be
cooked into a pasta sauce.

Because my first blossom dining experience was a stuffed-and-fried method, that's what I wanted to replicate. I know, you're counting the calories as you read. However, according to professional chefs, if you keep the temperature of oil for frying just right (~350°F), it doesn't add as much fat and your food comes out only minimally greasy. Before using the squash blossoms, gently open them up (which means you may need to rip a small tear down one side)and pry out the stamen using your fingers or a small knife. Then submerge the flowers in cool water while you prepare the filling so any dirt will rinse off.

I took a recipe from an online source and modified it a bit, creating a goat cheese stuffed blossom. I was delighted with the results - light and crispy blossoms with a hint of squash flavor and a dollop of melted cheese inside. My partner and I gobbled up six of the blossoms standing up, hot out of the pot. The other six were taken to family later in the day. By then, remembering the taste, we wanted more. All I could think was: Why didn't I buy two dozen? Truth is, I wouldn't want to go through the efforts of stuffing and frying these every day, but as an appetizer or light entrée, they are quite impressive. I can only imagine how they'd wow guests at a small dinner party.

There are three secrets in the goat cheese recipe below. One is the combination of the baking powder in the coating and the buttermilk for dipping: they react to one another to create a light but sturdy crust that shatters when you bite into it. Two, I borrowed a page from another source to double dip the blossoms in the coating. (It's a little more indulgent, but if you're only going to eat these once or twice a year you might as well go for it, right?) Finally, the chile powder adds flavor without actually making them spicy; you should just be able to taste a little "kick." The other recipes are a variation on the stuff-and-fry theme. Try them all.

Oh, by the way, squash blossoms should be cooked within 1-3 days after purchase. They don't keep well. Count on two per person for appetizers, more if they're a main course. Bon appetit!

Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters (makes 12)
1 dozen squash blossoms, male or female
A small log of goat cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups flour
1½-2 tsp chile powder, enough that you can just see it when you stir it in
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground pepper
1½ tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk (if you don't have any, some whole milk and a couple of teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice will create the same acidic reaction.)
Vegetable oil, enough to fill a 2-2.5 qt pot about 2/3 full)
1. Soak the blossoms in water for an hour or so, keeping them
down with a plate, to loosen any dust, dirt, bugs, etc. Swish
gently, rinse thoroughly, and place on paper towels on the
counter to dry for an hour or so.

2. Mix together the flour, chile powder, baking powder, salt and
pepper in a medium bowl. Pour the buttermilk into another
bowl.

3. Prep a plate with layers of paper towels for blotting. In a
heavy small pot, heat your vegetable oil until a thermometer
reads 375°.

4. In the meantime, stuff the blossoms: Using your fingers,
gently poke a wad of goat cheese down into the center of each
one and press together.

5. When the oil is hot, dip the flowers one by one into the
buttermilk, and dredge them thoroughly in the flower,
pressing down to work the flour into the petals. Shake once
lightly, and then dunk the blossom back into the buttermilk.

6. Drop the blossom into the flour and dredge again, making sure
all of the moist areas are well coated. Lay the blossom
gently in the hot oil. It should begin to sizzle madly. Be
sure they don't brown too quickly; that means the oil is too
hot.

7. Make sure there is room in the pot for the blossoms to move a
bit. If they are too crowded, or the oil will cool off. As
they start to brown, turn them to keep them even. When they
are nice and brown all over, remove them with tongs to the
paper towels. Drain for a few minutes; place on fresh paper
towels on your serving platter.

Sweet Potato Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (makes 12)
1 dozen male zucchini flowers, stamen removed
Filling:
3½ ounces ricotta
¾ ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2¾ ounces finely cubed sweet potato, boiled
4 fresh sage leaves, finely sliced
freshly ground white pepper and salt
Batter:
½ cup plain flour
½ tsp dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
1. Make the batter: Sift the flour into a bowl, sprinkle in the dry yeast and stir well with a whisk. Pour in the water and continue whisking until a smooth paste forms. Let this rest 30 min. before using.

2. Make the filling: It's important that the sweet potatoes are cut into very small cubes. Once they are boiled and drained, sprinkle over with the finely sliced sage, salt and pepper and stir through. Heat a little oil in a fry pan and, when hot, add the sweet potato and sage. Sauté until the surface has crusted and is slightly golden. Turn out onto paper towels to remove any excess oil and allow to cool.

3. Place the ricotta in a bowl with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and stir well; add the cooled sweet potato and fold through.

4. Take spoonfuls of the filling and shape into a tight cylinder. Gently ease the petals apart and insert the filling, fold the petals back around the filling and give them a little twist. Be careful not to overfill. Once the flowers are filled, store them in the fridge until ready to cook.

5. Use a saucepan that's just wide enough to fit the flowers. Heat oil until it reaches about 350°F. Test with a few drops of batter; it should start to sizzle and float to the surface.

6. Hold onto the stalk and dip it into the batter, pull it out, give it a shake to remove any excess batter and then dip into the oil, flower first. Only cook 1-2 at a time; this should take about 1 min. Make sure the oil is deep enough that the flowers can roll around and brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Three Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms (makes 12)
12 squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup crumbled feta, or about 4 ounces
1/4 finely chopped parsley, or about 2 large handfuls of leaves
zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 grated parmesan cheese
olive oil

1. Mix together ricotta, feta, parsley, and lemon zest until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently place a spoonful of filling in each blossom, closing the flower around the filling and lightly pressing closed. Fill all the blossoms before beginning to fry.

2. Add olive oil to a large pan, about enough to cover the bottom, and heat over medium heat. Once oil is heated through, dunk the blossoms in egg, and then in the flour mixture. Shake off any excess flour before adding to the pan. Flip flowers over after they have browned. These cook quickly, so pay close attention! Serve immediately.

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