Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Squash-ed Hopes and Dreams

I'm not sure how or why people started eating squash blossoms. (I'm sure there is research available on the topic; to be quite honest, I haven't really looked for any.) I had never really given the squash blossom much consideration; however, I rarely give squash much consideration as a full-grown veggie. I vastly prefer the zucchini.

I don't hate squash, though, so I wanted to plant some in my garden this year (I needed something to replace that obnoxious bean plant I ripped up). The problem is that I intended to plant a couple squash plants and a couple zucchini plants. However, I was not paying attention at the garden center and picked up some squash that had been mislabeled as zucchini - resulting in a squash takeover of my garden space.

At this point, I have only harvested two whole squash, but the vines and blossoms are flourishing. A couple days ago I started getting panicky - what was I going to do with all this squash?

Someone somewhere heard my thoughts, because suddenly everyone around me was talking about squash blossoms.

First it was my friend, describing her parents' anniversary dinner at a restaurant in Providence. Then I ran across them in a couple food newsletters and food blogs I follow. When my west coast colleague Nick posted a Facebook status update about sauteing squash blossoms, the light finally clicked on in my head and I asked him for his recipe.

People eat these?

Nick's method called for stuffing the blossoms with a cheese and herb blend, dipping them in beaten egg, dredging them lightly in cornstarch, and sauteing them in olive oil (well, he didn't specify that part; I just assumed it was olive oil) for a minute or two per side.

(I had seen some references to battered, deep-fried squash blossoms when doing my preliminary research, but a couple blogs mentioned that this completely destroys the flavor of the blossom itself. Nick had seen recipes for both deep frying and sauteing, and he chose to saute, so I followed suit.)

I headed outside to pick the blossoms, not entirely sure what I was looking for (I should have researched this better). I finally decided to pick the ones that were slightly open at the ends so I wouldn't have to force them open to stuff them, but not the ones that were wilted to the point of just dangling off the vine (foodies, if anyone has any tips on selecting squash blossoms, please post in the comments!)

Back in the house, I removed the stems and very carefully removed the pistils. This was pretty difficult. Nick said he skipped this step, but I wanted to try it.

At one point I was attacked by a giant bee that had been hiding inside a blossom and apparently objected to being smothered with cheese and thrown into hot oil.

For the stuffing, I used a blend of grated mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheeses - partly because that's what Nick used and partly because those cheeses are almost always in my refrigerator. I mixed the cheese up with some basil - dried rather than fresh because my basil plants have unfortunately succumbed to whatever bug has been plaguing them since the beginning of summer.

I stuffed the bulbous part of the blossoms, continuing up to where the ends started to taper, then - at Nick's recommendation - twisted the tops a little to keep the stuffing inside.

I beat an egg in a bowl and dipped the blossoms in, letting the excess egg drip off before dredging them lightly in a plate of cornstarch. While I was dipping and dredging, I heated a small pan with enough olive oil to coat the bottom over medium-high heat.

Blossoms in the pan

After all the blossoms were dredged, I threw them in the oil and listened to the quiet sizzle. After about a minute and a half, I turned them over with tongs to saute the other side.

I removed them with the tongs and set them on a plate of paper towels to drain the excess oil. These are meant to be consumed immediately (otherwise the coating becomes less crispy and more stale and soggy, plus the cheese stuffing re-solidifies). Luckily, Noe was walking in the door from his softball game as I was removing the blossoms from the pan. He gave me a look indicating he thought this was an odd post-game snack, but he took one anyway.

Fried deliciousness

These turned out pretty tasty. Noe thought his could have used more cheese (I probably did err on the skimpy side - I was trying not to burst the blossoms) or even some crumbled bacon in the stuffing. The cornstarch provided a light and crispy coating - just enough for a crunchy texture but not so much that you couldn't see/taste the blossom. The blossoms themselves don't have a strong flavor, but they have a tiny bit of an herb-y, earthy thing going on that I could taste (though maybe only because I really wanted it to be there).

As long as I have squash blossoms, I'll continue to try to perfect the art of cooking them. I suggest you try it, too - it's a fun twist on fried snacks, and way more interesting than just another squash from the garden.

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