Fine restaurants have them. Fancy cooking shows have them. And for years, without knowing it, home gardeners have had access to something so wonderful, and so perishable, that supermarkets don't have them. What are they? Squash blossoms.
These big, golden, star-shaped flowers borne on both summer and winter squash plants are delectable eaten raw. But, combined with cheeses and sautéed or battered and fried, squash blossoms will become an annual favorite. If you've grown zucchini or squash before, you know how quickly they change from small, tender vegetables to hard-skinned behemoths hiding in huge leaves and sticky stems. So why not enjoy the flowers?
Tony DiBello remembers how much his grandfather loved this dish. "If he had his way, my grandfather would just eat the flowers and skip the squash," he says. He shares the recipe with Homelife readers.
12 squash blossoms
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean blossoms and remove stamen from male flowers. Combine equal parts olive oil and butter to reach 1/2-inch in a cast iron skillet. Lightly beat egg. Combine cheese, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. Using stem as handle, dip blossoms in egg and dredge in cheese mixture. When blossoms are prepared, heat oil on as high a heat as butter will allow. Cook, one minute on each side until golden brown. Let drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
"Most people use the male blossoms. But leave some on the plant to pollinate or the fruits won't develop and you'll have a bunch of three-inch zucchini," says Tony Davis, owner of Quail Run Farms in Grants Pass. The blossoms are becoming so popular that some commercial growers are planting squash simply to harvest the blossoms. Davis has noticed that winter squash make about twice as many male as female flowers.
"Squash blossoms bring back memories for me," says Tony DiBello, owner of DiBello's, a delicatessen and restaurant in Medford, "They were a prized delicacy." He remembers his grandmother reprimanding his grandfather for bumping blossoms from the squash plants so she'd prepare them. She'd fry them, but they can be eaten raw, where DiBello says they add a flowery-type of flavor, like nasturtiums. Add the golden petals to tossed green or Mexican-style salad of cabbage, pumpkin seeds, and avocado.
Or quickly grill them, slice them, and sprinkle them liberally on white cheese pizzas, pastas, frittatas, quesadillas, or risotto dishes. They're delectable stuffed with salty cheeses, twisted closed, battered and fried. Create a filling with buffalo mozzarella or whole-milk ricotta combined with parmesan, lemon zest, and parsley. If stuffing them, use a long, narrow spoon, pastry bag or tear the corner from a plastic bag holding the filling. For a stunning summertime dish, harvest the female flowers with the baby squash attached, and fry them both.
Snip some stems with the flowers to use as handles when preparing and eating them. The male flowers grow from long, narrow stems while the fruit-bearing female flowers are attached to immature squash. "Pick the blossoms just before they open "¦ when the petals are just starting to split," says Davis, "and use them right away." He doesn't keep these highly perishable blooms in stock. But clients can order them and he'll pick them the night before the morning delivery. Once picked, they'll quickly wilt so use them as soon as possible.
"They don't keep. My grandmother kept them in the refrigerator in a pot of water, but for no more than a day," says DiBello. When preparing the blossoms, be certain to check for insects, especially earwigs. Then remove the flower's internal parts, leaving the petals.
Not many culinary delicacies are easy-to-grow and inexpensive. So let squash blossoms become the stars of summertime meals for generations.