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Squash Blossoms

Late Summer Recipes

Squash blossoms: there's something about them that seem so quintessentially summer. Maybe it's the promise of a bounty of zucchini or the shocking contrast of their bright orange petals and vibrant green stems. They're exotic and rustic at the same time. With the abundance of restaurants in San Francisco that focus on seasonal produce and buy from farmer's market, there are many chances to indulge over the summer months, but I've always hesitated to prepare them myself.

Besides appearing in stuffed, fried form, they've seemed mostly ornamental, tossed on top of risotto or pasta. One friend suggested using them as a centerpiece. But this summer, in the name of experimentation, I was determined to unlock the potential of squash blossoms. In the end I am both encouraged and disappointed.

I think the idea of eating the dainty flowers is much more enticing than the blossoms themselves. I know, blasphemy! Many foodies would quickly argue about their delicious qualities. And when they're stuffed with cheese and fried they're pretty close to heaven, but then again what wouldn't be. On their own I found them to be a bit green and bitter tasting, showing the flavor of zucchini, only missing that subtle sweetness. However I did discover the blossoms are easier to work with than expected and very impressive when cooking for company.

Of my trials, the flowers I stuffed and fried were the standout, but julienned and tossed into just about any sauté the blossoms were compelling as well. I tried them in a sweet corn succotash, a simple pasta sauce of butter, white wine, garlic, crookneck squash and cherry tomatoes, as well as a pasta salad with the zucchini starts. The last turned out to be a failure in my opinion, but my guest ate it most of it anyway. The starts were just too bitter to be enjoyable. While a bit time consuming, the stuffed squash blossoms were still quite easy and a hit with everyone. The pasta was the other winner, a light summer meal with a loaf of bread and glass of rosé.

Regardless of my mixed feelings, I do encourage you to pick up some these summer blooms and try them for yourself. Do however be prepared to use them right away as they will only be fresh in the refrigerator for two days at most.

Fried Squash Blossoms

I tried to make these as low fat as possible, which means I used a smaller amount of oil and instead of submersing the stuffed flowers I turned them several times which ups the cooking time. If you're not concerned about the oil content use enough oil to cover the flowers.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

12 medium to large blossoms
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tbsp pesto (homemade or store bought)
½ cup milk (for batter)
2 tbsp flour (for batter)
½ - 1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Take any remaining stems off the blossoms and check for bugs or dirt, but don't wash the flowers. In a small bowl mix together the ricotta and pesto. In a separate bowl whisk together the milk and flour until it forms a thin paste. Spoon enough of the ricotta mixture into the flowers to fill them 2/3 of the way (any more and you'll have a cheesy mess in your pan) and twist the ends of the flowers to seal. In a large skillet pour enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan ½ inch deep. Heat to 350°F. Dip the stuffed blossoms into the batter and gently place into the hot oil. Fry until batter turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and repeat until browned all over. Drain on a plate covered in paper towels or a brown paper bag and serve immediately.

Summer Squash Pasta
Serves two

1 tbsp butter
2 - 3 summer squash (any will work)
4 squash blossoms
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic minced
½ cup white wine
½ lb dried fettuccine
¼ cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized skillet melt butter over medium-low heat. Cut the squash in half and slice into ¼ inch thick pieces. Add the squash to the melted butter and cook slowly, periodically stirring until they begin to soften. In a separate saucepan bring 6 cups water to a boil. Slice the blossoms on the diagonal into 1-1½ inch pieces. Once the squash has softened add the blossoms, tomatoes and garlic. Sauté until blossoms begin to soften, about 1 minute, then add the wine. Simmer until wine reduces slightly, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile add pasta to boiling water and cook according to directions, if using fresh pasta wait until the sauce is done cooking. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste and toss with drained pasta, finish with grated Romano.