If you grow zucchini, you know that they produce the most beautiful orange blossoms. What you may not know is that they are a wonderful delicacy. You can fry or bake them with a variety of delicious stuffing, from cheese to meat.
Fried is best, and I will stand over a pan of hot oil in the peak of summer to cook up a bunch these tasty morsels filled with soft cheese and fresh herbs. But, you may ask, if I harvest the flowers, will I still get more zucchini? The answer is yes, but you must harvest only the males, which are the ones with the slender stem (the females are attached directly to the zucchini with no true stem).
If you get to August and you find yourself with a late squash summer glut and have run out of ways to prepare or donate them, go ahead and harvest the females. They are even more tasty!
If you do not grow zucchini, look for the blossoms at a few of the local farm stands, such as Sang Lee Farms, where they are super fresh and organic. They are best used within 24 hours of purchase (or harvest) but they keep well in the fridge for a few days if wrapped in paper towels in a sealed container. Good quality crumbled feta can be substituted for the goats’ cheese. The blossoms are also tasty if you forego the filling and simply dip in batter and fry.
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup mascarpone cheese or cream cheese
4 oz. soft goat’s cheese such as chevre at room temperature
½ cup finely grated fresh parmesan
4 scallions, white and green part, finely sliced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
4 mint leaves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped basil
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Place the goat’s cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a large spoon until it is softened and creamy. Add the ricotta, parmesan and mascarpone and blend thoroughly before adding the scallions and herbs.
Season with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop.
The Beer Batter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pilsner beer (You can substitute sparkling water or seltzer)
¼ tsp. salt
Place the all-purpose flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the beer or sparkling water until you have achieved a smooth batter. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
The Tomato Sauce
1 large clove of garlic, finely sliced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cups peeled and seeded fresh plum tomatoes, coarsely pureed
2 sprigs fresh basil leaves
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, making sure it does not brown. Add the pureed tomatoes, salt and basil sprigs and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Cool and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
Assembly and Cooking
12 fresh zucchini blossoms
Safflower or canola oil for frying
Just before cooking, carefully remove the stamens from the center of the flowers and trim the stem. You can remove them totally, but I find that leaving part of it makes them easier to fill, and they hold together better during cooking. Place the flowers in a bowl of cool water and swish around to remove any dirt or insects. Shake off as much water as you can, place on a clean dishtowel and gently pat dry.
Gently open the flower and press a generous teaspoon of the cheese mixture into the base, before folding the petals around it and twisting to seal.
Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a 12-inch skillet (or two 10-inch pans) to a depth of 3/4 inch and heat at medium until 180 degrees. If you do not have a cooking thermometer, you can place the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil and small bubbles should form around it. If it is bubbling fiercely, it is too hot, so turn down the heat!
Once you think the oil is ready, do a test. Dip one of the squash blossoms in the batter and shake off any excess. Carefully slide it into the batter (this is where the stalk comes in handy), and it should sizzle gently. I always protect myself with a long-sleeved shirt and pants when frying, make sure the handle of the pan is turned to the back of the stove, watch my fingers and stand back.
If the blossom sizzles when it hits the oil, batter and add the rest in one layer without crowding the pan. After a couple of minutes, turn one of the blossoms over, using tongs. If it is a golden or light brown color, then you are ready to turn the others. If it is still pale, continuing cooking for another 30 seconds before checking again. They should need four to five minutes in total. Be sure to adjust the heat up or down to ensure even cooking.
While the blossoms are cooking, gently reheat the tomato sauce and warm some serving plates. Spoon a little of the sauce onto each plate and top with 3 to 4 of the blossoms.
Eat immediately, while they are still warm and crisp. If you are making more than one batch, place a wire rack over a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven and hold in the oven while the second batch is cooking. They will hold up well but will not be as crisp.
Zucchini “Fries” With Lemon
If zucchini blossoms are not on hand, you can make fantastic “fries” with regular Zucchini using the same batter. I usually make a batch to serve alongside the stuffed blossoms. Use only fresh small squash, that are firm to the touch and have a smooth shiny skin.
Cut small zucchini slices crosswise ¾ inch thick. Dip them in the beer batter and fry in pre-heated for about 2 to 3 minutes each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve piping hot with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.