I’m getting pretty jazzed about the Fancy Food Show that’s coming to Washington at the beginning of next week. I almost feel guilty mentioning it, because members of the general public can’t get in. But staff writer Tim Carman gives you a glimpse of the fancy-food world this week with his story about two entrepreneurs who have launched a business making organic hard candy.
Also this week in Food: a look at the pros and cons of food-safe gloves by former chef-restaurateur Aliza Green. (Plus a poll about whether the sight of a food-service worker wearing those gloves makes you feel safer.) And in the spirit of the season, we’ve got a lineup of recipes for beautiful summer soups — both warm and cold — that you’ll want to try.
Okay, so, I don’t need to remind you about today’s Free Range chat, right? I don’t need to explain that it’s our weekly chance to swap information about all things culinary? That it starts at noon and lasts an hour? That you can submit questions early? And that every week, two lucky chatters win prizes for asking great questions? I don’t? Good.
To tide you over until it begins, here’s a leftover question from last week’s chat:
I’ve bought lots of squash blossoms in the past from the farmers market, and I finally have a garden big enough to yield my own blossoms. However, I’m not sure how to go about picking them. I see blossoms starting without the squash and also sprouting from newly growing squash. Are both okay to pick, or will the squash not form if I pick the blossoms growing from the vine? Also, my usual method for preparing them is stuffing them with a dill-and-garlic soft cheese, rolling them in beaten eggs and panko, and then lightly frying them. Have any other suggestions for different ideas?
As you’ve observed, your squash vines have two kinds of blossoms. The ones that you see with little squashes developing at the stem end are female. Many gardeners don’t pick those because they’re about to grow into squashes, which won’t happen if they’re plucked. But if, like many of us, you feel overwhelmed by a glut of summer squash, then harvesting the female blossoms will put a welcome dent in the plant’s exuberant production.
The male blossoms grow at the end of a thin, elongated stem, with no squash developing. They’re more numerous than the females. Pick those to eat, but leave a few for pollination so future female blossoms can be fertilized and grow more squash for you.
Pick the blossoms after they open, within a day or two after they appear, and try to eat them that day; they don’t keep long after cutting. Here’s how the University of Illinois Extension says to do it: Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut off the blossoms along with an inch of the stem. Rinse them gently in cool water and refrigerate in a bowl of ice water until you’re ready to use them.
To that I would add: Check carefully for bugs.
As to other cooking ideas, try stuffing your blossoms with a combination of ricotta, chopped and sauteed mushrooms and a little chopped parsley, then frying as you usually do. You can also add them to stir-fries. And here’s a good-looking appetizer from our Recipe Finder database. It seems long, but that’s because it includes directions for making the corn tortillas yourself. As the headnote says, you can opt to buy those from the grocery store and save some time.
These indulgent, traditional little turnovers get their special crisp texture from deep-frying masa made from instant corn flour. If you don’t have a tortilla press or don’t want to make the dough, you can use store-bought tortillas for something closer to the familiar griddled quesadilla Americans and Mexicans alike adore. If you use 6-inch store-bought corn tortillas, the same amount of filling will make 12 quesadillas.
2 large poblano chili peppers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon safflower or corn oil
1/2 small white onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 medium clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
12 ounces (about 8 cups) fresh squash blossoms, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
4 ounces Oaxaca cheese, grated (about 4 ounces; may substitute part-skim mozzarella)
2 cups instant corn masa flour, such as Maseca, plus 1 1/4 cups water (may substitute 12 store-bought 6-inch corn tortillas)
To prepare the poblano peppers, place them on a tray under the broiler, directly on the grill or directly on the open flame. Turn them every 2 to 3 minutes for a total of 6 to 8 minutes, until they are charred and blistered all over.
Transfer them to a plastic bag, close it tightly and let them cool for 10 to 20 minutes.
Working under a thin stream of cold water, peel off each pepper’s skin, make a slit down each side to remove and discard the seeds and veins, and remove and discard the stem. Cut them into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
Combine the butter and oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. When the oil has melted, add the onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes, stirring, until soft and translucent.
Add the prepared poblano peppers, the squash blossoms and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the blossom juices exude their juices and then the mixture begins to dry out. Remove from the heat.
If using premade tortillas: Heat the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10 to 15 seconds per side, so they will not break when you fold them. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the squash flower/poblano mix on half of a tortilla. Fold it in half and press down. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until cheese is completely melted and tortilla is slightly crisped.
If using homemade masa, place 1/4 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl; add the corn flour and remaining water in several additions, stirring with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough for a few minutes to rid it of any lumps, adding a little water if it feels too dry. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel.
Meanwhile, cut circles from a resealable plastic food storage bag and use them to line a tortilla press. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels.
Heat enough oil to measure 2 inches deep in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil reaches 375 degrees, make the quesadillas: Divide the dough into 1-inch balls. Take a ball and place it on top of the plastic on the bottom side of the press, top with another layer of plastic and press down to make a flat disk.
Place 1 tablespoon of the cheese and 2 tablespoons of the filling at the center of the dough disk and, leaving it in the plastic, fold it over and press to seal the edges. Repeat to form the rest of the quesadillas, using all the dough and filling.
Carefully add a few quesadillas at a time to the hot oil, making sure to not crowd the skillet. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning as needed. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the paper-towel-lined platter to drain.
Serve hot, with your favorite salsa.
From Mexican Cultural Institute chef and cooking teacher Patricia Jinich, who blogs at patismexicantable.com.