A squash blossom is an elaborate silver and turquoise American Indian necklace, right? No--a squash blossom is a delectable edible flower waiting to solve the problem of overproduction of zucchini and other summer squash in the vegetable garden.
Instead of stalking around the neighborhood, cloaked by the dim light of early dawn, leaving paper bags full of unwanted zucchini like foundlings on neighbors' doorsteps, nip the problem in the bud. Eat the blossoms.
Or, if you want to have your zucchini and eat the blossoms, too, pick only the male flowers, which are considered more suitable for cooking because they are larger. Male and female blossoms can easily be distinguished: Male flowers have long, straight stems while female blossoms appear on short stems that shoot off from the stalks, and they have the beginnings of a tiny zucchini at the base. Since in most growing situations there are more male flowers than are necessary to pollinate the female flowers, there need be no loss of vegetables if only the male blossoms are harvested.
Squash blossoms are at their best picked just as they are about to open, and they should be cooked as soon as possible before they wilt and lose their flavor. Though the flowers of any variety of summer squash can be eaten, it's most often the zucchini flower that finds its way into the kitchen.
Before cooking squash blossoms, check them for insects. Pull off the outer leaves, and snip off all but two inches of the stem. Wash them under cold running water, taking care not to tear the petals. Dry the flowers gently with paper towels. Count on at least six blossoms per serving.
Usually squash blossoms are fried, but that doesn't mean that monotony must set in. The batter can vary from a beaten egg white and beer froth to a simple flour and water coating. Then they are deep or shallow fried until golden but not overly browned, which takes only about one minute. They can be served as a nibbler or added to omelets. Or squash blossoms can be stuffed, with either cheese or meat, and then fried and served alone or with a sauce.
When preparing stuffed squash blossoms, it's a challenge to try tying the ends of the petals together like a bandanna to keep the stuffing from falling out during cooking. But if you're not nimble-fingered enough to tie the knots, just insert a toothpick to keep the petals closed.
If only a few blossoms are on hand, they should be chopped and combined with flour and baking powder for airy fritters. Coarsely cut up--a task easily accomplished with a pair of scissors--and saute'ed, a few squash blossoms add a unique quality to scrambled eggs or cheese souffle's.
In past seasons zucchini flowers may have withered on the vine, but this year they could become an economical and luscious part of many meals. SUMMER VEGETABLE SOUP (4 servings) 1 1/2 tablesoons butter 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil 1 onion, thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves, chopped 1 1/2 cups corn kernels Salt to taste 1 1/2 cups zucchini, diced 1 1/2 cups chopped squash blossoms 6 cups chicken broth 1/4 cup chopped canned green chilies 3 ounces brick monterey jack cheese, cubed 4 tablespoons sour cream, optional
In a large heavy saucepan melt butter with oil. Add onion, garlic, corn and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add zucchini, squash blossoms, broth and chilies. Simmer over low heat until zucchini is tender, about 15 minutes. To serve, spoon into bowls, and add cheese and a dollop of sour cream, if desired, to each bowl. Adapted from "Recipes From the Regional Cooks of Mexico" by Diana Kennedy SQUASH BLOSSOM FRITTERS (6 servings) 2 cups flour 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 egg 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup milk 2 cups coarsely chopped squash blossoms Olive oil for frying
Combine flour and baking powder. Beat egg with water and milk and add to flour, beating until smooth. Fold in squash blossoms. Heat 1/2 inch oil in a skillet and drop batter by tablespoons into hot oil. Cook until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot. ITALIAN CHEESE-STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS (6 servings)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
24 squash blossoms
2 ounces canned anchovy fillets, cut into 24 pieces
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/8 cup beer, at room temperature
Flour for coating
Olive oil for frying
Cut mozzarella cheese into 24 cubes, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and pepper. Stuff each flower with a cube of cheese and a piece of anchovy. Close petals by tying ends or with a toothpick. Beat egg whites until foamy. Fold in egg yolk. Add beer. Dip blossoms into batter, and coat with flour. In a deep fryer, heat oil until very hot. Fry blossoms until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot. BEER BATTER FRIED SQUASH BLOSSOMS (6 servings) 1/2 cup flour 1 egg, beaten 1 tablespoon melted butter 1/2 cup flat beer 1 egg white, stiffly beaten 24 squash blossoms Juice of 1 lemon Salt and pepper to taste Vegetable oil for frying Tomato sauce for serving (optional)
Combine flour, egg and butter. Add beer and stir only until smooth. Let stand at room temperature until light and foamy, about 2 hours. Fold beaten egg white into batter. Sprinkle squash blossoms with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Dip into batter. In a deep fryer, heat oil until hot and fry blossoms until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with a tomato sauce, if desired.