For a couple of tried and true city slickers, having a garden, even one in flowerpots and planters, is quite a wonderous thing. Every day, our zucchini grow notably longer, our tomatoes seem to multiply, and our fig “trees”, just tiny bare clippings a few months ago, get ever leafier and more verdant. Frankly, we’re like a couple of proud parents as we check out our little garden’s daily progress.
The dramatic showstoppers of the garden, though, are undoubtedly the vivid schoolbus yellow squash blossoms that have burst from our zucchini and pattypan squash plants. Huge and vibrant, these delicate flowers emerge every morning only to curl and shrivel by the afternoon, replaced the next morning by a new crop. Perhaps it’s because I’m a gardening novice, but until recently, I had no idea that one could eat these gorgeous blossoms. If I’m being completely honest, what drove my interest in sampling these flowers was the legend of the squash blossom and burrata pizza at Los Angeles’ trendy Mozza. On the evening in January we managed to score reservations, there happened to be a frost that killed off the entire squash blossom crop. Truly a disappointment, and the idea of a squash blossom pizza has continued to simmer in my mind since then. With no experience working with squash blossoms and only a vague idea of what that pizza should look like (anyone have any photos or firsthand descriptions?) we decided to start with something a bit simpler: stuffed squash blossoms in a tempura batter.
The first challenge is picking the blossoms, which come in male and female sexes. Luckily these are easily distinguishable- females have budding squash attached at their base (as seen above), while the males just sprout up from long, thin stalks. Some say that the females taste better, but harvesting them generally means harvesting the incipient fruit before it gets a chance to mature. In general, it’s “safer” to take males- as long as you have a single male flower on your plant, all of the females can be pollinated. Given the fragile and finicky nature of these flowers, we were forced to take a couple of each and in reality, I couldn’t taste a difference between the two, except that the females had a delightful little burst of baby squash taste at the base. More discerning palates, like Harold McGee’s (writing in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen) might detect an aroma replete with “green, almond, spicy, violet, and barnyard notes” in these flowers.
There seem to be any number of variations on how stuff and fry squash blossoms and properly executed, I’d imagine they’re all pretty delicious. We tried to keep ours fairly light, all things being relative, by stuffing them with drained cottage cheese (rather than, say, mozzerella) and coating them in a light tempura batter before deep frying them. According to my know-it-all husband (and I say that with nothing but endearment), if you keep the temperature of oil for deep frying just right (about 350 in this case), it doesn’t add that much fat and your food comes out only minimally greasy.
We were delighted with how these turned out- light and crispy with a hint of squash flavor and a pillow of melted herbed cheese inside, we literally gobbled these down standing up while waiting for the rest of our meal to cook. I wouldn’t want to go through the efforts of making these every day, but I can only imagine how they’d wow guests at a small dinner party. And should you find yourself with extra tempura batter and cheesy filling after making your stuffed squash blossoms, simply slice up the squash/zucchini itself, dip in batter, and fry, adding a dollop of the cheese as a garnish afterwards- delicious!
Stuffed squash blossoms (makes 4 and you will have extra filling and tempura batter)
4 squash blossoms, cut at their base
2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
herb of your choosing (we used minced sage leaves)
vegetable oil for frying
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
1/4 cup or more of club soda (as needed)
1. Very gently wash and dry the blossoms- they are extremely fragile.
2. Drain cottage cheese by wrapping it in cheesecloth and suspending above a bowl or by running it through a yogurt strainer. This may take several hours. (Alternatively, you can use ricotta, mozzerella, or other cheeses with a lower water content.) When texture is relatively dry, put it in a food processor along with chopped herbs of your choosing and pulse until the filling is smooth, thick, and creamy.
2. Fill a pastry bag with a long tip with the cottage cheese mixture. Very gently, insert the tip deep into the flower and slowly fill it, being careful not to overfill (better to put less in than too much, as you may tear the flower). Once filled, twist the tips of the petal to “seal” and put them in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat 2-4 inches of oil to 350 and be careful to keep it at that temperature for the best results. Make the tempura batter by mixing the flour, cornstarch, salt and club soda in a shallow bowl. You will likely need to add extra club soda bit by bit in order to achieve a tempura consistency.
4. Once the oil has heated and the flowers have chilled, dip the flowers in the tempura batter, being sure to fully coat them, then carefully drop into the oil one by one and let them fry for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon or metal skimmer/strainer, remove the flowers from the oil and let dry briefly on a paper towel-covered cooling rack. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then eat while still warm.