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Birds and Bees ABCs
Wondering about those boxes of zucchini blossoms, now beckoning beguilingly in farmers’ markets? I hope this post about zucchini blossom recipes makes readers yield to temptation and give them a chance. Zucchini blossoms are so much more than salad decorations. First, they can be used effectively along with other greens. Just tear the petals off, mix them into the salad, but they’re tender so please add the dressing at the last minute before serving.
If you are seduced by the ease of growing zucchini and similar squashes, the blossoms are an alternative to the bloated August logs you leave on your neighbor’s porch or in your compost pile. Cut the blossoms off before they have a chance to become the monster jokes on late night TV. You may already know that these plants have both male and female blossoms. Male squash blossoms are hairier and have a thin base where they attach to a long stem. Females have a thick bulge, which is the ovary, where the squash grows from the plant. You can wait until a small squash appears and then pick the female blossom along with it. This blossom and tiny squash combination is delicious as part of a deep fried appetizer or sauteed as a side dish. There are actually quite a few amazing zucchini blossom recipes to enjoy.
Nip It In The Bud
The site Gardening Know How (which, as a recovering Black Thumb, I visit frequently) advises that morning is the best time for picking squash flowers. The male flowers appear first and should be picked before they become too hairy. Female blooms are considered the tastiest, but judge how many full grown squashes you ultimately want on your plants before harvesting. By squeezing the back of the bloom, it is easy to discern the flat end of the male flower from the more bulbous end of the female one.
I have found that if you purchase squash blossoms, you should use them the day you buy them. If they are wilted after a day or two in the fridge, then use them in a quesadilla, soup, or risotto. When picked from a friend’s garden, I can keep them in paper towels in a flat covered container in the fridge overnight or even a couple of days. Male blossoms will last longer in the fridge than the females. You open the blossom to remove the pistil inside, along with the occasional deceased bug. I brush them with a paper towel if cleaning is needed. To fill, either used a little coffee spoon or a plain 1/2 inch pastry tip with a pastry bag. I prefer a 16 inch size bag, as that gives you plenty of room to twist the open end and create a grip. Once you have filled (usually less than a tablespoon is plenty) the blossom, twist the top petals together to create a seal. You can refrigerate for an hour before frying, but filling and frying at the same time is best.
Fried, Steamed, And Marinated
Even though I have found a few zucchini blossom recipes in French cookbooks (kind of fussy recipes with crabmeat or layered in sauce), those I use most often are from Italian and Mexican recipe sources. One of the most sensational dishes I ever ate was a zucchini souffle with a sublime sauce of zucchini blossoms and truffles at Ristorante Il Pinturrchio in Spello. I tried to recreate it (without truffle shavings) and failed miserably. Spello, famed for its flower festivals, is on the way to Assisi and is worth a visit (wear climbing shoes, this is not the place to sport your heels). And when you need a meal break from this very curated town, this would be my restaurant choice.
For frying the blossoms, either filled or unfilled, this is the batter recipe I use most often. It is from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria cookbook, which was published in 1993. She in turn credits the recipe to Cesare Benelli, the chef-owner of Al Covo in Venice. I have sometimes added a bit of lemon zest or finely chopped fresh herbs to this pillowy batter. In fact, you can used this batter for any fritto misto combination, seafood, or finely sliced vegetables. I have also stuffed the blossoms with ricotta and herbs or a piece of mozzarella with a basil leaf before dipping them into this batter and frying. I also salt the batter. In frying, I use my carbon steel wok and find that 16 inch tongs from Messermeister are great tools. This length of the insulated handles on this size really is better for spatter insurance than shorter versions.
- Beer Batter
- 1/4 cup (60ml) water
- 1/4 cup light beer at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (70gr) pastry or Wondra flour (I use Tipo 00)
- 3 large egg whites
- 2 quarts safflower, or grape seed oil for frying
- 16 or more zucchini blossomes and
- 1lb (500gr) of sliced zucchini, or baby artichokes,
- Additional sea salt for final seasoning
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the water and beer together.
- Slowly whisk in flour until smooth and set aside for an hour; so that the flour has time to absorb the liquid.
- Preheat the oven at the lowest temperature if you want to keep fried batches warm while finishing the rest.
- Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. They should look a bit creamy.
- Stir the batter and then fold in the egg whites.
- The batter should be fluffy but smooth.
- At this point, you can add some zest or finely chopped herbs if you want.
- Pour oil into a 6 quart saucepan or stockpot, or use a deep fryer.
- I float a Thermoworks chef alarm thermometer probe; you need a thermometer so that you can maintain a 375F (190C) temperature.
- Dip your prepared ingredients, a few at a time into the batter, rolling them to even out how the batter coats each piece.
- Shake off excess and lower the pieces into the oil, a few at a time.
- It should take no more than two minutes to cook the vegetables, turning them until they are golden on all sides.
- Remove with a wire skimmer, drain, and place on parchment or paper towels and season with sea salt.
- Batches can be be kept in a warm oven (you may need to leave the door ajoar with spoon)
- Maintain that 375F temperature for all batches, even if you have to wait for the oil to heat up again.
- You can substitute 1/2 cup left over pro secco or 1/2 cup soda or seltzer water for the beer and water combination
- 16 zucchini blossoms
- 16 mozzarella bocconcini halves If your blossoms are small. - leave them whole if you have large blossoms
- 40ml (1/8 cup)best quality Extra Virgin Olive OIl
- 2 tsp balsamico condiment (I use Cavalli Nando)
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Wipe off the flowers with a paper towel, and pull apart the petals at the base to remove the pistil - try not to tear them, but it is not fatal if you do.
- Drain your mozzarella pieces well on paper towels and allow them to dry for 10 minutes.
- You do not want the mozzarella to be too damp for this preparation.
- Place each piece of mozzarella inside each blossom and twist the end of the blossom to "seal" the blossom.
- Place the blossoms in a single layer in any baking dish that will fit all of them.
- Combine the olive oil and Aceto Balsamico in a small bowl and whisk together, adding the sea salt and pepper to taste.
- Dribble this dressing over the stuffed zucchini blossoms and turn each blossom over a couple of times so that the dressing coats all sides.
- Cover and allow to marinate at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
- You can garnish a a salad, or make them part of an antipasto platter or top crostini with them.
- 1 cup fresh ricotta, sheep's milk if possible
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
- 2 tbs finely chopped chives
- 1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme or lemon thyme
- Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- pinch of cayenne or Marash pepper
- 12 squash blossoms
- 3 tbs unsalted butter
- 1 cup Blond Chicken Broth (a paler broth than one done with roasted chicken)
- chopped flat leaf parsley or gasil for garnish
- Mix the ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest, chives, thyme, 1/2 tsp salt and some freshly ground pepper with the cayenne or Marash pepper and stir them toghether until thoroughly combined.
- Pull open the cleaned, and de pisteled blossoms and add just enough filling so that you can close them easily - usually less than a tablespoon.
- Bring the petals back around the filling and reshape the filled blossom, flattening it gently, just a bit.
- Melt the butter in a wide skilletover medium heat and arrange the blossoms in one layer.
- Sprinkle the blossoms lightly with some additional salt.
- Add the broth, put on a lid and simmer gently for about 5 minutes - the blossoms should just be heated through.
- Lift the blossoms from the pan (I use a fish or line cook spatula) and arrange in a shallow wide soup or pasta bowl. Spoon some of the buttery broth over each and garnsih with parsley or basil.