Flower Power

Squash Blossoms

Squash Blossoms...hard to find / easy to cook

I was recently admonished by a trusted friend that some of my recipes are too involved—too many ingredients, too many steps. (An admonishment is like a scolding without the finger wagging.) But here’s the thing: for me, the kitchen is an oasis, especially on a hot summer day when I have my A/C cranked to “meat locker”. I don’t mind a few extra steps. Even if I am listening to music or watching TV while I cook, I generally tune those out and get a lot of very important thinking done while I, say, boil sugar (alarmingly, one of my favorite pastimes).

This all reminds me of a time when I changed jobs and had to train the person who was taking my place. Not to cast anyone in a negative light (too late), but it was a difficult transition. She just didn’t understand any of the work she was inheriting and, like a big, fat, dumb salmon, kept swimming against the tide. The lesson I learned – and hopefully she also learned (although I know she didn’t)—was that I can only demonstrate how I do something. It may not be the best or most optimal way, but it’s how I got the job done. So there.

What you see when I cook is a work in progress—both the cook and the cooked. So sometimes I go out on a limb to learn something new or try something new.

(Defensive anyone?)

But speaking of easier recipes, a few days ago an errand took me a little out of the way. I found myself very hungry, and, happily, in the middle of a farmers’ market. The farmers’ markets here in Nueva York can be touch and go. Example: this one featured a booth where someone was selling maple syrup (provenance unknown) in bottles shaped like the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately I already have that bottle in my Maple Syrup Bottle Collection.

But as I turned to step down the subway stairs I spotted a couple of tables selling the type of stuff I like to find at a farmers’ market: fresh currants, and, one of my all time faves, squash blossoms.

Currants are a great ingredient (especially for someone who likes to boil sugar), because they make great preserves, or a great glaze for chicken. They’re a little on the tart side uncooked, but I thought they’d be fun stewed and added to an eggy vanilla ice cream as it freezes. Fresh Currant Ripple is most definitely not something you find at Carvel.

Ah, but Squash blossoms? For a city boy these are like bringing the farm into my little urban kitchen. They are that breath of fresh country air I always imagine you get when you get out of the car at the farm after a long drive from the city.

(How naïve. That first breath of country air you get at the farm actually smells like…well…there are cows and horses and chickens there. Smells like a farm. Or like New York on a hot, summer day.)

Maybe the novelty (to me) is that squash blossoms have remained a true farm product; they are too perishable for supermarkets. Like fiddle ferns, they always seem (to me) like something you luck into.

They’re kinda groovy, relaxed, and they look like hippies dressed in tie-dyed psychedelic orange. These are the flower that blossoms from tops of squash as they grow. I’ve never grown squash; perhaps if I did I’d take them more for granted.

Okay, maybe not the easiest ingredient to find (I can already feel the breeze from the finger wagging I’ll get), they are however, easy to prepare. These are very informal preparations. In fact, I learned these when camping out one summer as a kid. Take your pick: savory or sweet.

You may have had something similar to the savory kind on Super Bowl Sunday when you’ve been served Jalapeño Poppers. For this recipe you simply throw some ricotta cheese, garlic, anchovy, salt and pepper to taste in a food processor, and whirr until combined. Fill the blossoms and then dredge in flour. Pan fry in canola oil quickly, just until the flour starts to brown. Drain on paper towels and eat while still warm. Cooking through isn’t really the point here, this is just to add to the overall flavor.

The sweet variety is just as simple. Combine ricotta and just enough confectioners’ sugar in the food processor so that the cheese is only mildly sweet, say about a tablespoon or less to a cup of ricotta. Stuff the blossoms with the cheese and pan fry as above. Dredge the filled, fried blossoms in cinnamon and sugar as soon as they come out of the pan. Let these cool to just warm and serve as a special dessert or treat.

This is the part where I tell you how I did things. These ideas are optional. First, I use Wondra flour to dredge the blossoms. You may have seen this stuff in the supermarket packaged in a tall blue canister. Wondra is a very powdery flour that chefs swear by for dredging.  You can also use it to thicken gravy. I like it because it makes a very light, slightly crisp coating, an important concern with our delicate blossoms.

Second, I fill the blossoms with a pastry bag and nozzle. It’s just easier for me, but please feel free to use a spoon.

Groovy, huh?

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