If your garden is getting overrun with prolific zucchini plants, nip them in the bud.
Pluck those fragrant, golden squash blossoms and cook them before they have a chance to grow into another green zucchini blimp.
Many people have never heard of eating the flowers from the squash plant, but they have been part of Central American cuisine for thousands of years, because squash are native to the Americas.
They appear in modern Mexican and South American cuisine under the name of flor de calabaza. You'll find them in quesadillas, soups, and stuffed with fillings. In fact, Campbell's Soup's line of products in Mexico includes a creamy Flor de Calabaza soup.
Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe from the New World, and Italians developed the summer squash, or zucchini. So some squash blossom recipes have a definite Italian flair. And in today's trendy cooking, squash blossoms show up in pasta, omelets, frittatas, salads and fritters.
"I love squash blossoms and use them periodically as a special in the summertime," said Chef Michael Showers of the Goldener Hirsch Inn in Deer Valley. "What we are doing with them right now is stuffing them with Drake Farms ch?re, and frying them in a light tempura batter. We serve them with a super simple heirloom tomato vinaigrette. It's simple but amazing."
Frida Bistro also serves squash blossoms occasionally on its sophisticated Mexican menu.
"We will be featuring a squash blossom relleno — squash blossom stuffed with cheese and sautéed — when we host the Wasatch Food & Wine society next month," said Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield, the restaurant's manager.
Another Salt Lake restaurant, Forage, has also been known to serve crispy squash blossoms in its tasting menu of local, seasonal ingredients.
But because the season is short, and because blossoms wilt quickly, they're not often found in grocery stores.
If you don't have a garden or a friend who does, your best bet is a farmers market.
Kaysville farmer John Borski said he goes through pounds of squash blossoms at the Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park. He has seen some customers eat them raw, on the spot. Another customer brought him a blossom stuffed with rice to try.
I was in luck, as friends in my neighborhood were all too happy to let me loose in their gardens, especially if it meant that I might deter some of their zucchini production.
A few hours after picking the blossoms, I noticed the zippered bag vibrating like a cell phone. I found two buzzing bees desperately trying to escape, a reminder that these are, indeed, flowers. In fact, I nibbled on a raw blossom, and it bought back a childhood memory of trying to eat hollyhocks.
But, when battered and fried, they become crispy and squash-y tasting.
"No question, zucchini blossoms are an ingenious and elegant packaging material — tastier than wonton wrappers, prettier than parchment, way less crazy-making than phyllo. And they fry up into crumbly golden shells," wrote T. Susan Chang in her National Public Radio article, "Gather Ye Squash Blossoms."
Like zucchini, the blossoms don't have much flavor on their own; they're much better when stuffed with some type of cheese and herbs.
The "Joy of Cooking" cookbook advises sautéing partially opened flower buds in butter or olive oil. They can also be steamed or baked.
There are "male" and "female" blossoms. The female blossom will eventually have a squash emerging from it. When picking, leave the baby squash attached when cooking; it tastes young and tender. The male blossoms grow on a thin stem and won't yield any squash. Both male or female blossoms can be used interchangeably in recipes.
I found that if you pick in the morning, most of the blossoms are wide open, making it easier to pluck out the bitter stamen in the middle. But the open flower is hard to close up if you're going to stuff and deep-fry them. If you pick them at night, they're usually tightly closed, so you'll have to gently work them open with a chopstick.
In his book "Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life," Jamie Oliver advises removing the stamens in the middle of the blossom because they're bitter.
Zucchini blossoms are tissue-paper thin, and delicate. Handle them carefully to keep them from tearing, especially if you plan to stuff them with a filling that could ooze out.
Quesadillas are a good way to "sneak in" squash blossoms for less-adventurous eaters. Tempura or fritters show off the blossoms with a nice crispy coating, but they should be eaten immediately before they lose their crunch. If frying sounds too messy, you can bake them or use them in a soup.
Battered Stuffed Squash Blossoms
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fat-free chilled milk or water
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon fresh basil or parsley, minced
16-20 large squash blossoms, carefully rinsed
2-3 cups canola oil for frying
Sift together flour, cornstarch and salt, then whisk in milk or water until smooth. Cover and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Leftover batter can be stored for up to two days. If it is too thick after refrigeration, add a few drops of water to thin.
Meanwhile, prepare the stuffing. Combine the ricotta cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary and basil. Open the blossoms, remove the stamen and spoon about 1-2 teaspoons of the mixture into the center of each. Avoid overfilling the blossoms. Carefully twist the top of each blossom closed. Place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Pour the oil into a skillet to a depth of about 1 inch. Heat over high heat until a small cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown within seconds
Dip each stuffed blossom into the batter, then carefully slip into the hot oil. Cook until golden on all sides, about three minutes. Add only as many blossoms at a time as will fit comfortably in the skillet. Transfer with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain briefly. Sprinkle with salt, if desired and serve immediately with pesto and/or marinara sauce. Makes 16-20 blossoms.
Options: Add several chopped mushrooms to the stuffing. Or use goat cheese or cream cheese as a substitution for the ricotta.
— Adapted from University of Illinois Cooperative Extension
Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed With Goat Cheese And Basil
8 ounces fresh young goat's milk cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
12 zucchini blossoms
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the cheese on a large, flat plate. Sprinkle with the basil and mash with a fork until the mixture is evenly blended.
With a sharp knife, carefully cut through one side of a zucchini blossom to slightly open it up. Spoon the cheese into the corner of a plastic sandwich bag. Snip 1/2 inch off the corner, and use this as a piping bag to gently squeeze the filling into each flower, until just full. Carefully close the blossom. Repeat for the remaining blossoms and arrange them like spokes on a wheel in a round baking dish just large enough to accommodate them. Season lightly with salt. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil. Cover with aluminum foil.
Place in the center of the oven, and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
— Adapted from "Vegetable Harvest," by Patricia Wells