Friday, June 10, 2005

Squash Blossom Bonanza!

“I’m so disappointed with my zucchini crop! I told all my friends that I would be supplying lots of squash to them this summer but so many of the blossoms never form any squash. The big, yellow flowers are beautiful and healthy but then they just close up, wilt and that’s it. I wonder if there aren’t enough bees to pollinate them or something ………”

The Ingredient Sleuth made this statement not so very long ago. Little did I know what I was missing. Little did I know about summer squash! I shouldn’t have been disappointed with my squash but they would certainly have been justified in being disappointed with me! How wrong I was about them!

In fact, the blossoms of summer squash (zucchini, crook necked, Mexican, etc.) are edible. Being of the thrifty persuasion, though, I was still skeptical in light of that revelation. It seemed so wasteful to indulge in the blossoms, no matter how delicious and delicate they may have been, thereby forestalling the production of the squash themselves.

Wrong again! That was then – this is NOW! Bring on those blossoms and let’s cook them up!

In fact, blossoms are either male or female. Male blossoms will not – EVER – form squash. They have a thin stem and spiky calyx at the base of the flower, making them easy to distinguish. Female blossoms, in contrast, have a small baby squash at the base of the flower. In both cases, the bright yellow flowers form a trumpet shape, then open wide in a five-pointed star, then close again. The blossoms are at their peak for only one day. So, one has to be vigilant in order to harvest them at the height of their goodness.

Farmers' markets and farm stands are prime territory for squash blossoms. Generally, they are sold in bunches of a dozen or so. And, they are a true sign of summer, continuously available during the summer months. (Home growers need to be aware that the production of blossoms will be limited if the mature squash themselves are not harvested regularly from their vines – if the plant begins to “think” that its production cycle is ending, the flowers will not continue to form. So, giant-squash producers will produce a limited number of blossoms. Life inevitably comes with its choices!)

The delicate, sweet-and-fresh flavor of the blossoms is a delight! Whether raw or cooked, the blossoms are a tasty and visually-appealing ingredient. Plus, they are very low in calories and are a good source of beta carotene, vitamin C and potassium. It makes me shake my head to think of how many (male) blossoms I allowed to die on the vine, unused and unappreciated! Mea culpa!

The blossoms may be used raw, simply torn into attractive pieces and added to salads. Or, the little, yellow beauties may be torn into pieces and added to soups or risotto. They may be prepared in a variety of cooked formats, as well. Steaming or sautéing them lightly, then seasoning them with a quick dash of herbs and/or olive oil is a particularly-healthful option. The blossoms may also be battered and fried (either deeply or shallowly).

My favorite way to serve them is to create a mixture of one mild cheese (goat cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, etc.) with one herb (marjoram, oregano, basil, mint, parsley, etc.) as a filling. Then, after washing the blossoms (inside and out) and lightly drying them, I make a small slit (with the tip of sharp knife) in the side of each and use a tiny spoon (those from my espresso set work extremely well!) to place a small amount of the mixture inside. It is truly amazing that a very tiny amount of filling makes for a great explosion of flavor.

Next, I just space the filled blossoms on a lightly-oiled dish, leaving room in between them for the heat to circulate, drizzle them with a good extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, then cover them lightly with aluminum foil. They bake beautifully, becoming tender and turning slightly golden-brown, in a hot oven (400 to 425 degrees) in 15 to 20 minutes. Served immediately, the contrast of fresh-and-sweet blossom with pungent-rich, herbed cheese is incredible! Guaranteed to produce oohs and aahs from those around the table!

One additional note: if you decide to use the female blossoms, it is extremely elegant to harvest the blossom WITH the tiny squash attached, as a unit, and then to prepare them intact. If one has plenty of squash plants, this can be a delightful alternative! Someday, this miserly ingredient sleuth may even attempt it!

Virtually everyone agrees that summer squash blossoms are a delicious delicacy and, of course, that is absolutely correct. Looked at from my point-of-view, I am no longer WASTING those male blossoms – nor am I feeling frustrated that they don’t turn into squash. In fact, I have come to look at the squash plants as a squash blossom bonanza! A little knowledge, as usual, goes a long, long way!

Bon appetit!


Anonymous said...

thank you so much for such easy ways to use the squash flowers ... now I can give them a try ... I'll try the cheese filling idea .... sounds yummy!!!

bill said...

Squash blossoms -- who knew? :) Good info!

marc&terri said...

Our mouths are watering after reading about the zuchinni flowers! We had the most delicious deep fried ones in Italy and we still can't believe how good they were. We can't find them to buy very often here in the DC area but, when we do, we buy A LOT to satisfy our craving for that special flavor. We'll try the healthier cheese-stuffed version that you suggested next time we can lay our hands on some. marc&terri

Carolyn said...

Sounds so delicious that I think I have to plant some zucchini in my garden this year!

Pat R said...

a group of us shared a huge platter of these blossoms (they were either deep fried or roasted very crisp) in Florence a couple of years ago ... heaven, that's it!

Anonymous said...

We can't wait to try the cheese-stuffed squash blossoms idea! Thx to the ingredient sleuth for the info!

Kristi said...

Super ideas on how to use the zuchini flowers!!! One of the family type Italian restaurants near my mom's house (in Atlanta)has these on the appetizer menu sometimes in summer -- we'll try them! They sound so yummy .......

Dennis said...

Yet ANOTHER reason to LOVE zucchini! Just wishing that the season were longer. Thx for the good tips.

kay said...

We tried these in Italy and they are fantastic!!! Cool idea to try at home too.