There is something both romantic and utterly decadent about eating flowers. From earthy saffron strands infusing basmati rice to dainty violets adorning sugary-sweet desserts, flowers are alluring and exotic, delicate, and like cherries, erotic. I adore summer salads decked with peppery nasturtiums, rose petal jam on Melba toast, even pansies and lavender. But too often flowers are relegated to garnish, picked off and discarded, assumed to be inedible and non-contributors to the dish.
Not so with squash blossoms, or zucchini flowers, (I’ve heard them referred to and seen them on menus under both names), which always take a leading role. Whatever the reason, squash blossoms are more widely understood to be edible in their own right, like a slightly risqué, larval vegetable from your grandmother’s backyard garden. Like all flowers, they are highly perishable and unnervingly fragile, but they have a sweet, mild squash taste and a sunbeam’s burst of orange petals that sets them apart. Beautiful, delicious and fleeting, like a summer Saturday.
And so, with air conditioning blazing, this past sticky weekend I took advantage of the squash blossoms’ brief season and cooked my own. Blossoms are generally available in the northeast by July and last as long as the summer sun does; though they are the most popular of buds in the squash family, the flowers of any summer or winter squash, including pumpkin, can be eaten. It is the male blossoms that are usually harvested, leaving the females undisturbed to develop their fruit. If you’re picking them yourself, choose the flowers that grow straight from the stem, and leave a few to pollinate the female flowers, which grow atop the squash itself. Erin’s Mamma taught me that when we visited her Connecticut garden last month. Hers weren’t yet ready for picking, but some weeks later I saw similar blossoms popping up at markets across the city.
I harvested my flowers from the Union Square Greenmarket, and to assist with the preparation, invited over a male of my own. Though squash blossoms are scrumptious in frittata, smothered with cheese in quesadillas, and absolutely sing when simmered in soups made from summer vegetable stock, my favorite method is stuffed, battered and fried. Duh! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, anything breaded and fried always sounds great to me. Lest you forget I’m from the Buff. Double Duh!
Little has to be done to clean the blossoms. I removed the flowers’ stamens myself; it seemed somehow indelicate to ask my gentleman caller to castrate our appetizer, no matter its taxonomic designation far, far removed from homo sapiens. A gentle rinse to remove stray pollen, a pat to dry, and our flowers lay in a bright pile, ready to stuff with a rich mixture of ricotta, chili flakes and lemon zest. Two Lagunitas IPAs later (and some for the batter), my date and I were deep-frying fat blossoms in hot oil.
By the principles of sympathetic magic, flowers should be an aphrodisiac. After all, they are sexual organs, however maimed and depollinated, cheese-filled and fried. Though I can’t swear to their effects, I can attest to their unbridled deliciousness. Straight out of the pan, crispy and salty on the outside, rich and creamy within, and with a kick of heat from the pepper, I can’t think of a better start to a summer meal—or to a summer fling.
Stuffed Squash Blossoms
For the filling:
- 12 Squash Blossoms (trimmed)
- 1 cup fresh Ricotta Cheese
- 1 large Egg
- Zest of 1 Lemon
- 1 t Chili Flakes
- ¼ t fresh Nutmeg (grated)
- Kosher Salt & Pepper
For the batter:
- 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
- ½ cup Lagunitas IPA Beer
- ½ cup Ice Water
- 2 large Egg Yolks
- Kosher Salt
- About 4 cups Canola Oil for deep-frying
- SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: A deep-frying or candy thermometer
In a deep mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and pour in the ice water and beer; mix to combine. Add the flour and continue to mix until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust proportions until you reach heavy cream consistency and then season with salt to taste. Set aside.
Clean and trim the blossoms by removing the stamen. Trim the stem slightly, but not completely–you’ll want to keep a bit of stem by which to hold it. Rinse the flowers under gentle running water to get rid of any pollen, goo or bugs, and drain them on paper towels.
In a small bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, egg, zest, chili flakes, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Using a pastry bag or a small spoon, stuff each blossom with 1 ½ tablespoons of the filling.
Pour oil in a deep fryer or large, heavy pot and heat to 375 degrees. When the oil is hot, dip two squash blossoms at a time into the batter to coat completely, letting the excess drip off. Fry the flowers in the hot oil for approximately 2 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, turning once. Drain the fried flowers on a platter lined with paper towels, seasoning with more salt while they are still hot. Repeat with the remaining squash blossoms and enjoy a bit of summer sun!