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.
With your New Year’s Eve hangover in the rear view mirror and the long, winding road of 2014 laid out before you, here are 5 wine-related resolutions to help you embrace and explore the world of wine in the New Year.
1.) Mix It Up: Because the world of wine is so vast and often confusing it’s easy to just stick with the same wine, day in and day out. To break out of your wine rut, why not vow to sample a different wine every week or learn more about a specific wine making region? Find a reputable retailer who can guide you towards selections you might like or subscribe to a publication and/or website where you can learn more about a variety of wine regions around the world. Here on the blog we plan on offering an array of wine coverage in the New Year and our Explorateur Wine Club is a wonderful way to explore a different wine region every month!
2.) Start a Wine Collection: If you’ve been drinking wine long enough to have a favorite wine region and/or producer it’s probably a good time to start collecting. Collecting wine does not mean you have to commission a custom built 15,000 bottle capacity cellar – far from it! All it takes to start a collection is a small wine fridge and a few age-worthy bottles to put in it (for some age-worthy wine recs, please click here). The wine fridge is an important piece of equipment for the beginning collector. Please don’t forgo this purchase and make the mistake of storing your wines in a spare closet or on the kitchen counter. The varying temperatures and humidity levels in any home (kitchens are the worst!) are the arch-enemies of wine so be sure to protect your investment with this useful piece of equipment. Also, wine lovers invariably have a way of outgrowing wine storage units so, if your budget allows, purchase a fridge with a little room to grow.
3.) Drink more white wines that are NOT Pinot Grigio: Much like Rodney Dangerfield, white wine often “gets no respect”. I conduct many tastings where people want to skip right over the white wine and go straight to the red. Sometimes it’s personal preference but, more often than not, I think people are under the impression that red wines are somehow superior to whites, which couldn’t be farther from the truth! People are also under the mistaken impression that all white wine tastes like the bland, mass-produced Pinot Grigios we often encounter which doesn’t help white wine’s reputation. It’s rewarding to see someone’s face light up after taking a sip of White Burgundy or Alsatian Gewürztraminer and marvel at their flavor and complexity. So whether it’s Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Arneis or Chenin Blanc embrace the world of white wine but, whatever you do, stay away from the Pinot Grigio! For a selection of delicious whites from The Wine Atelier, please click here.
4.) Drink more sparkling wines: Unfortunately sparkling wines are most often associated with special occasions and New Year’s Eve celebrations, leaving the majority of the year unbearably bubbly-free. While Champagne’s price may limit it to more of a special occasion selection, there are many sparkling wines from around the globe whose price point makes them a perfect candidate for an everyday wine. Wines like Prosecco, Cava and Crémant retail for under $20 (for some examples, please click here) making them perfect for enjoying on a Tuesday night after work or when a friend stops by to visit. As an added bonus, sparkling wines have less calories and alcohol than a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Affordable, delicious and figure-friendly – what’s not to love about that?
5.) Wine-related Travel: Next time you’re booking a Spring or Summer getaway why not head to your favorite wine region? Nothing will give you an appreciation for what’s in your glass more than standing in the vineyard where the grapes are grown and talking to the people who make the wine. Whether you’ve collected for some time or are new to enjoying wine, traveling to different regions can be a lot of fun and facilitate your passion for the subject. Start with a region you’re interested in and plan from there. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the wineries directly, they’re usually very happy to hear from you. Of course here at The Glamorous Gourmet we’re always happy to assist you with wine and food related travel so please don’t hesitate to reach out. Here’s a link to some of our travel-related articles.
I hope these suggestions help you make it through 2014 with a renewed passion for all things vinous! If you have any other wine-related resolutions we’d love to hear about them, please tell us in the comment section below.
Thanksgiving is less than a week away – do you have your turkey recipe and wine pairings all picked out? If not, never fear! The Glamorous Gourmet is here to help you out of your culinary quandary. First, let’s talk wine:
Trying to find a wine to pair with such an extensive and diverse group of flavors can cause a common vinous affliction known as WPP aka Wine Pairing Paralysis. With the cacophony of flavors and textures involved in a meal designed to stuff you until bursting, what wine could possibly (1) complement the meal, (2) appeal to a variety of palates and (3) not break the bank? Here are a few tips and recommendations to help make the process a little easier for Thanksgiving or any other holiday meal:
#1 When presented with dishes such as roasted turkey, caramelized onion and cornbread stuffing, cranberry compote, sweet potato casserole and Brussels sprouts at the same meal, the best wines to select (and guests too I might add) are those that “play nicely with others.” Choose wines that are fruit-forward with a food-friendly acidity that will not only stimulate your taste buds but “do no harm” to your already flavor filled meal. Hold off on tannic Cabernet Sauvignons or heavily oaked Chardonnays and opt instead for wines that are lighter in style like the 2012 Hahn Pinot Gris from Monterey, California ($14) or for reds, the Art + Farm’s The Messenger Red Wine Number One, NV ($16), also from California.
#2 The same principles apply when trying to satisfy a variety of palates at your holiday gathering. Avoiding wines with harsh tannins and heavy oak influence is usually a good game plan. Select a fruity, approachable Alsatian white wine or crisp, sparkling wine like Prosecco to appease your guests. While universally appealing, these wines will also complement the flavors in your meal beautifully. Try the Helfrich Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France, 2011 ($14) or the BiancaVigna Prosecco DOC, Veneto, Italy, NV ($15). For a red, try the elegant Copain “Les Voisins” Pinot Noir, 2010 ($42) from California’s Anderson Valley.
#3 We all know holidays like Thanksgiving can involve feeding a small army of family and friends; however, finding an appropriate wine to serve doesn’t have to break the bank. Choose wines from regions known for producing great values at reasonable prices and save your Classified Growth Bordeaux and California cult collectibles for another occasion! Stock up on your favorite value wines and have them on hand when guests drop by for some “holiday cheer.” Great examples include this duo from Domaine de Triennes, the Sainte Fleur Viognier, 2011 ($16) or for red, the St. Auguste, 2008 ($22) a blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot fermented in 2-6 year old barrels from Domaine Dujac in Burgundy.
Also, if you’re still not sure which turkey recipe to try, I’m happy to share two of my all time favorites that are sure to please a crowd. The first is a classic recipe from Chef Tyler Florence for Oven Roasted Turkey with Sage Butter. The sage butter is slathered over the bird and under the skin and makes this turkey the most beautiful shade of mahogany you have ever seen! Have your camera ready because you will be snapping photos right and left. After years of going through all the trouble of brining my bird, I made this recipe one year and was hooked. In addition to creating beautiful color, the copious amount of butter also keeps the bird from drying out so brining was no longer necessary. You can also still make gravy from the drippings, see below for a wonderful gravy recipe. If you do make this turkey recipe you must also make the Caramelized Onion and Cornbread Stuffing that pairs with it. It is mouth wateringly delicious and I highly recommend cooking the stuffing in the bird, there is just no substitute. In case all the delicious stuffing doesn’t fit, be sure to have a buttered casserole dish on hand to bake the excess.
If you’re looking for a bird that’s a little different from the classic preparation, The Barefoot Contessa’s Roast Turkey with Truffle Butter is simply out of this world! The white truffle butter enhances the flavor of the turkey so beautifully yet the bird never seems overly “truffled.” My husband Steve is not the biggest truffle fan and yet he loved this recipe. If you choose to make this turkey you also have to make the best gravy I’ve ever tasted, which is also an Ina Garten recipe. Her delicious Homemade Gravy includes Cognac in addition to white wine, heavy cream and the drippings from the bird which synergize to create pure deliciousness. This gravy also works well with the aforementioned Oven Roasted Turkey with Sage Butter.
I hope you enjoy these Thanksgiving wine pairing suggestions and recipes! All the wines mentioned in this post are available at The Wine Atelier and we’d be happy to consult with you on your Thanksgiving menu as well. You can always text or call 561.317.6663 with your food and/or wine pairing questions. Steve and I would also like to wish you a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving.