Posts Tagged ‘Squash Blossoms’

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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Ramp Goat Cheese Crostini

Ramp Goat Cheese Crostini

When I was a kid my Dad frequently travelled to New York City on business. It was not unusual to see him climb down the stairs from the Eastern Air Shuttle lugging all manner of things that he either couldn’t find in Massachusetts, or thought he could get at a better price in New York. Occasionally my Mom or I will still invoke his promise, “I’ll get it in New York.”

(Yes, he flew the Eastern Air Shuttle, and yes, he climbed down the stairs. I have vague memories of propellers. The whole scene is very “Mad Men.”)

(A shoe textile engineer, it was also not unknown for my Dad to climb down the shuttle stairs lugging a shoe that had been sawed in half lengthwise. Ah, glamorous New York.)

I’ve made New York my home for many years, but I wonder if my Dad’s idea of New York as a great source for any and all things may have become musty with time. Or is it that the rest of the world has caught up?

I should perhaps cut New York a break here as I have been searching for something that is generally considered hard to find under any circumstances: squash blossoms. (C’mon, sooner or later you knew I would bring the conversation back to food.) The problem is that squash blossoms are as rare in New York as garden space. Squash blossoms are exactly what they sound like: the flower that grows on top of the growing squash. Considered a delicacy, they are slightly sweet and “squashy”, and they have a very brief shelf life. You literally need to eat them the day they are picked or “pffft” they’re gone.

Squash blossoms are usually stuffed with cheese and fried, although recently on TV I spied Frontera Grill Chef Rick Bayless chopping them (from his own garden) and mixing them with Queso Blanco, then using the mixture as a loose quesadilla filling. Later, as summer settles in I’ll have to try haunting the local greenmarkets in search of my elusive prize.

This past weekend I found myself in rapt conversation with the mother of a friend of mine. The subject? Gardening, something that to this urban dweller seemed as distant and far away as mining for rocks on the moon. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know if I have the right stuff to be a gardener. I hate bugs flying around my head (cows handle this better me: they swat them with their tail.) I prefer air conditioning (mine has three settings: “cold”, “colder”, and “meat locker.”)

The flip side to this spoiled city boy rant is that folks with gardens eat enviably well, my definition of eating well, in this case confined to flavor. Everyone and their mother know that veggies fresh from the garden taste better. Tomatoes are the prime example of this. I am very happy when friends with gardens shove paper bags full of tomatoes fresh off their vine into my hands. I’ve never found anything comparable at the supermarket, although every now and then the Greenmarket delivers the goods. But how many tomato “frogs” must be kissed before one finds the Prince?

Amongst her other bounty, my friend’s Mom also grows her own Watermelon. Imagine that drippy, chilly seed spitting fest on a hot July Sunday afternoon. If that doesn’t cool you down you’re beyond saving.

She informed me that they are just now coming into lettuce season. Speaking of seasonal items, I gently prodded her about those squash blossoms, my ulterior motive droolingly obvious. (No luck.) Taking a different tack, I asked her if she also grows Ramps.

Ramps are this year’s arugula. That’s not my quote. You can read it in Time Magazine. While it seems that I’m edging into true “foodie” territory here, my interest in Ramps is more due to their seasonality – my inner Alice Waters at work. Ramps are also known as Wild Leeks and have as short a season as squash blossoms – albeit with a longer shelf life. Calling them Wild Leeks is perhaps a bit misleading as their raw flavor favors their close cousin garlic in pungency. Their perfume straddles the fence between onion and garlic.

I’m not a huge raw garlic fan, but sauté it with a light touch so that its sugar caramelizes and its spiky “pepperiness” mellows out and I’m in love. Ditto Ramps. The good news is that due to Ramps’ new found fashion they are easier to find. I happily scored some over the weekend at Whole Foods.

Ramps

Ramps

I wanted to do something quick and simple with the Ramps so that I could eat them in the aforementioned mellow state, but not drift too far from their natural state. This is just like when you find really good berries: you don’t want to bake them into a pie. A quick, cool rinse and a dab of loosely whipped cream is all you need.

So I sliced the Ramps into rings, and sautéed them very briefly in good Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They have a lot of natural sugar, so the intense heat of the pan gave the smaller pieces a sweet crunch. Store-bought Crostini served as a stage for the sweet, mellow rings, and I used a drip or two of goat cheese thinned with Greek yogurt to glue the Ramps to the Crostini. The goat cheese / yogurt mixture was totally unnecessary, although it added a creamy counterpoint to the sautéed Ramps. A quarter pound of the pricey Ramps (mine were $9.99 per pound) will make enough of these little forshpeisen to keep four cocktail revelers happy.

Anyone got Squash Blossoms?

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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