I haven’t gone a week since moving to New York without stumbling upon a farmer’s market. They appear on every free street corner, erect their tents on open plazas, or emerge between building walls in wide alleys. This past week, I ventured to Union Square to try a new pilates class, and happened upon one of the less obscure of these outdoor markets.
While I was tempted by housemade apricot chutney and a vine of heirloom tomatoes (as if I hadn’t had my fill from the other week) I only had three meager dollars in my purse.
Fortunately, as I perused the stands, I happened upon a beautiful display of squash blossoms, on sale for only $3 a carton.
“I don’t really know how to pick a good squash blossom,” I admitted to the owner.
He regarded the produce on display, and then grabbed two cartons, slipping both inside a plastic bag.
“Take two,” he said. “That way you’ll get more than enough good ones.”
For $3, I walked away with two heaping cartons of squash blossoms. This is the story of how my weeklong epicurean exploration of cooking with squash blossoms began.
My experience with squash blossoms, until this week, has been mixed. I’ve ordered them on a number occasions – even returned time and time again to an Italian bistro in my old neighborhood that touted them on the menu but had always run out by the time I arrived.
After three tries, I finally finagled a plate of deep fried squash blossoms. And I can’t say I wasn’t a little disappointed.
They appeared before me deeply fried, and filled entirely with ricotta. The thin petals had completely disintegrated within the batter, and the cheese overwhelmed the very subtle sweetness of the blossoms.
Yet the best squash blossoms I’ve ever had were at Candle 79 (remember this beautiful plate?), stuffed full with broccoli, cauliflower, corn, sprouts, and a vegan cashew cheese.
A Little Fact: Zucchini flowers aren’t known for being a superfood, by any means. An entire cup has only 5 calories, and little else in the way of sustenance. They are, however, very high in Vitamin C (indicated in the vibrant yellows and oranges in the petals) and contain impressive levels of calcium, iron, and Vitamin A, too.
In the hopes of achieving a healthy, light version of the deep-fried flower fritters, my first attempt with squash blossoms was a baked version, filled with a mixture of spaghetti squash, diced oven-dried plum tomatoes (seeded and roasted for 20 minutes at 450), fresh basil leaves, and light mozzarella. Two tablespoons of each, mashed together, makes about half a cup of filling. I divided the filling between 6 squash blossoms, filling each up until the point the petals split from the stamen and fan out.
A quick, small drizzle of olive oil and a few cracks of sea salt later, and the zucchini flowers were ready to bake. I let mine go for 15 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees.
Your Stuffed Squash Blossoms are ready once the mixture inside is melted, and the petals have become crispy. I plated mine with some fresh grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
A Little Tip: Squash blossoms are extremely perishable. Don’t buy them on Sunday planning to serve a platter of stuffed flowers for a dinner party at the end of the week. The flowers wilt extremely quickly, and the mild squash flavor will quickly become more reminiscent of cardboard produce carton.
I had so many squash blossoms the inside of my fridge looked like a flower garden. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat them all right away, and so I planned my next squash blossom meals in order to accommodate the wilting buds.
For the second dish, I switched over to breakfast, creating a personal-sized Squash Blossom and Feta Frittata.
To start, I sauteed a quarter of a sweet yellow onion with a clove of pressed garlic until the onion became translucent and the garlic began to brown. To the pan, I added the zucchini blossoms, about 6, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onions begin to caramelize, and the squash blossoms become soft (this is particularly pertinent to the tough membrane where the flower connects to the stem).
In a separate bowl, I beat three tablespoons of egg beaters together with a tablespoon of fresh thyme and parsley. Using a heat-proof ring mold (the type designed for this brand of egg adventure), I poured half the egg mixture into the pan, allowing it to firm up around the edges of the mold. I added in half the onions and squash blossoms, a tablespoon of fat-free feta cheese, and topped off with the remaining egg mixture, squash blossoms, onion, and an additional tablespoon of crumbled feta cheese. I topped mine with two raw squash blossoms.
Cover the pan, and let cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the egg mixture is firm. It should begin to rise out of the mold. Using a knife, release the frittata from the mold and flip, cooking until the top side has brown and the frittata is cooked through.
Serve with a fresh arugula salad, dressed with lemon juice and fresh cracked pepper. If you, too, find yourself with an over-abundance of squash blossoms, tear up a few flowers and mix into your arugula salad. Their mild, vegetable-flavor is a great complement to the peppery arugula.
A Little Warning: No matter how you decide to prepare your squash blossoms, this delicate flower requires a few special preparatory steps. To get your squash blossoms ready for baking, frying, sautéing, edible garnishing – you name it – after quickly rinsing the flowers, pat them dry and check for bugs. This is important, because chances are, you will find bugs in your freshly harvested squash blossoms.
If I survived this step, you too can move on to removing the stamen. Brush off any loose pollen, and your blossoms are ready to eat.
For my final squash blossom feast, I returned to a more traditional method of preparation. Squash blossoms are not uncommon in Mexican cuisine, and I recently tried one at Agave, a fantastic Mexican restaurant in the West Village that is serving up a single golden floret, lightly fried in a miniature flour taco taco with cabbage, roasted tomato, tres queso, and piquillo peppers, as a happy hour bar snack.
Inspired, I decided to create a vegan version of the dish.
Using about a half cup of cauliflower, I pureed the florets with a clove of garlic, a pinch of cumin, and a dash of chili powder. I cooked the mixture for about 5 minutes, or until the mix was smooth and spreadable. This was a recipe made on the fly; to make the “queso” more creamy and flavorful, try adding a few drops of olive oil, a few white beans, and a splash of hot sauce.
While toasting a Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Reduced-Carb tortilla in one pan, I sauteed a quarter cup of diced yellow onion in another, adding in the squash blossoms and a handful of arugula. Using this as your base, kick up the heat with half a diced, jalapeno pepper, or sweeten things up with two tablespoons of fresh corn kernels and two tablespoons of diced sun-dried tomato.
To prepare your Agave-inspired taco, simply spread your vegan queso onto the toasted tortilla, and pile in your filling. I like to top mine with another handful of fresh, uncooked arugula and a few tablespoons of my favorite salsa.
All of these recipes are easy to make, tally in at at 150 calories or less, and highlight the delicate, summery flavor of our vegetable gardens’ favorite flower.
Until next time,