Monday, July 19, 2010

In Full Bloom

If you've ever given any thought to whether edible flowers are tasty, now is a good time to find out. Most edible flowers on the market include nasturtiums, marigolds, snapdragons and basil blossoms, but there are plenty of edible flower plants that actually produce familiar vegetable parts as well. Zucchini or squash blossoms are a perfect example of a flower that appears at the same time as its "fruit", coloring the market with beautiful orange and yellow blooms, sometimes still attached to the tail end of a dark green zucchini. While you might consider them to be a specialty or fancy ingredient, squash blossoms are actually quite common in many cultures that don't let anything edible go to waste.

Despite appearing delicate, squash blossoms are actually quite forgiving when it comes to aggressive cooking techniques like stuffing and frying
and are far more versatile than it would seem flowers could be. They can be treated gingerly, folded into sauces or becoming a stuffing or filler themselves (like in a lot of Mexican cookery), but I personally like to enhance their beauty and flavor by keeping them intact. My favorite cooking method is battering and frying, which can be done with or without a filling. I always go for "with", because what's the point of a crispy fritter if there isn't a soft, cheesy filling inside? There are a ton of possible fillings but my favorite is goat cheese with fresh herbs ad a little bit of chopped chilies. The batter is a simple mix of nearly equal parts flour and white wine, but flour and beer or a tempura style batter of flour and soda water works well, too.

The most difficult part of cooking with squash blossoms is removing the stamen, which really just means snipping it out of the center of the flower. Once that's done you can just fill the flower with a teaspoon of the filling of your choice, leaving about an inch on the top without stuffing so it can be twisted to seal the flower shut. They can be dipped in breadcrumbs or grated cheese and fried in oil or battered as I like them, for a thick, crispy crust. They fry up quickly since the only real goal is for the batter to fry and crisp and there's no waiting for anything to cook through. Once they're done and still hot I like to season them with salt and fresh herbs for an extra punch of flavor. You can serve them with a dipping sauce or a side of lemon wedges, but I mostly leave them on their own, not wanting to distract from their crunch and the flavor of the rich stuffing. So if you see them at your farmer's market don't be afraid. They're easy, delicious, and guaranteed to impress if you're entertaining, so give those beauties a try.

Fried Squash Blossoms with Spicy Goat Cheese

8 squash blossoms, stamens removed
7 ounces goat cheese
1 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1 Thai chili (jalapeƱo can substitute) finely chopped
zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup white
vegetable oil

1. Combine goat cheese, mint, dill, chili, lemon zest and Parmesan in a bowl until well incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Using a teaspoon or a zip-top bag with a corner cut off, pipe or scoop the mixture into the center of each blossom, leaving the top 1/2-inch of the blossom without filling. Twist the tops together to seal the blossom shut.

2. Heat vegetable oil (about 4 inches deep) in a heavy-bottom pot to 350 degrees (I usually eyeball it). Whisk together flour and white wine in a large bowl to form a batter. Carefully dip stuffed blossoms in batter and fry in the hot oil until crispy and golden (you will probably have to do this in batches). Sprinkle fried blossoms with salt and any leftover herbs and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain before serving. Enjoy!


1 comment:

The Food Hunter said...

I've just recently tried squash blossoms for the first time and loved them. These look great.