Squash plants don’t just produce squash for the table, they also produce squash blossoms. These are delicious stuffed with cheese, rolled in a thin batter of whole-wheat flour and water, then fried quickly in hot olive oil. I make them with the male blossoms of bush-type squash such as zucchini, because unlike the female flowers that generate the fruits, the males are expendable; you only need a few for pollination.
Rumor has it, though, that squash plants aren’t just for fruits or flowers. The young, tender growing tips of the vining types are also considered delicacies. I’d heard that the Chinese boil them in chicken broth. Paula Wolfert, in “Mediterranean Grains and Greens,” notes that these tips are called tenerumi, or “rags,” and speaks highly of a Sicilian version in which they are chopped, boiled briefly and dressed with tomato sauce.
(Barbara Damrosch/BARBARA DAMROSCH) - Squash vine tips are delicacy, too.
I decided this was the perfect time to experiment, because about now it’s helpful to prune back the tips of long winter squash vines and let the plants put all their energy into maturing the fruits already formed, rather than start on any new ones. So I headed out to our large patch of butternut squash.
Fertile soil and summer’s heat had done their work, and the beds were blanketed with leaves the size of small umbrellas. I considered diving into the catacomb of prickly stems and foliage to count how many squash had formed per plant (four to five should be left before snipping), but I decided to take the matter on faith, and just snip off seven or eight nice tips that were heading out on a journey to the raspberry row, and were easy to cut.
When I meet a new food plant I put it out on the counter and ask, “What am I going to do with you?” Then I go with my gut. Boiling seemed too violent for these pretty, tendriled things, so I chopped them just a little and put them in a pan of good olive oil and just enough water to create a little steam when cooked under a lid. After 10 minutes on low heat they had just softened, so I sprinkled them generously with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and stuck them under the broiler briefly to melt the cheese a bit.
They tasted exactly like squash blossoms, and I remembered that what I liked about those was not just the golden petals but also the stems and the crunchy little stamen inside that I never bother to remove before stuffing. The last six to eight inches of the vines have the best texture. I expect you could do something creative and tasty with the larger stems, but any that are pencil-size and larger would need longer cooking. Could they be stuffed and baked like cannelloni? Maybe a little too fibrous? You never know until you try.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and author of “The Garden Primer.”