While delivering wine to my good friend Julia Johnston (kitchen designer extraordinaire) the other day, she was kind enough to bestow upon me the gift of…squash blossoms!
Of course I’m talking about the delicate, golden blooms produced by summer squash, most commonly zucchini. While I have enjoyed these beautiful, edible flowers prepared in restaurants before, I’ve never made them myself. Since Julia was generous enough to share them with me I knew I couldn’t just banish them to produce drawer purgatory where they would die a slow death along with the two remaining scallions and half a Vidalia onion leftover from last week’s cooking adventures – no, they were way too special for that! So I did some research on these beauties to learn a little bit more about them as well as the various methods of preparation.
Although most squash has its ancestry rooted in the Americas (pun intended), the one we know today as “zucchini” actually originated in Italy. When it comes to the zucchini flowers, there are both male and female varieties. The female flower is attached to the actual zucchini fruit (yes, this vegetable we’ve been enjoying in savory dishes all these years is technically a fruit) while the male flower grows directly on the stem of the plant – both are necessary for pollination to occur. While they look slightly different, the female flower has a flat bottom where it was attached to the zucchini while the male flower is slightly smaller and has a stem (pictured above), both are deliciously edible and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Popular preparation methods include stuffing and frying them in a light tempura batter, incorporating them in soups, and, since zucchini and its blossoms are very popular in Mexico, as a filling for quesadillas. After researching a few different preparations I decided to take the classic route and prepare them stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese, lightly battered and fried until golden and served with a marinara sauce. What’s not to love about that?
I’m happy to report the preparation of this dish was actually quite painless and the result was beautiful, golden floral nuggets that were positively delightful! The crispy outer shell studded with Maldon salt gave way to an oozy, cheesy center accentuated by the delicate flavor and texture of the flower itself. The key is to serve the blossoms warm so the cheese is perfectly melty and the marinara sauce made a wonderful accompaniment. As with just about any fried dish, Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms pair deliciously well with sparkling wine such as Prosecco or Franciacorta. If you choose to serve them with a marinara sauce as I ultimately did, a fruity Italian red like a Barbera is perfect! I hope you enjoy this dish and I’d love to hear what you think or if you have any other delicious ways of preparing this very special ingredient. Thanks again to Julia for expanding my culinary horizons!
Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Makes 6 blossoms
6 squash blossoms, stems trimmed to 1″
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 – 12 ounce bottle lager or light lager beer
Vegetable oil for frying (approximately 2 quarts if using a standard Dutch oven)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Maldon sea salt for garnish
Carefully pry the leaves open towards the base of each flower, opening just enough to remove the stamen inside with your thumb and forefinger. Rinse each flower gently with cool water and pat dry.
Fill a piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner snipped out) with ricotta cheese and pipe 2-3 tablespoons into each flower being careful not to overfill. If the flower is filled with too much cheese it can burst during frying. Gently twist the petals closed at the top and set aside.
In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together flour, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Pour the beer into the mixture slowly, whisking to remove any lumps.
Add enough vegetable oil to a pot or heavy skillet so it comes up the side 2 inches, yet is not more than halfway up the sides. Heat oil to 360 degrees and then dip the flowers into the batter (use the stem to roll it when possible) and carefully add the battered blossoms to the hot oil. Fry until blossoms are golden and crisp, using a spider or spatula to make sure each side is golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes. Depending on the size of your pot, you may want to cook the blossoms in batches to avoid them sticking together.
Once done, remove blossoms to a paper towel-lined plate and season with Maldon sea salt while hot. Plate golden brown blossoms and serve with your favorite store bought or homemade marinara sauce.