Please welcome my good friend Jeremy, who's going at 'em again with his second guest post on NDP. I'm off to Santa Fe, NM for the long weekend, and Jeremy's babysitting the blog (because 4 kids isn't enough!) while I'm gone. Behave now...and get thee some squash blossoms!
I'm not one for begging, but I'm begging you, dear reader, not to miss out on the squash blossom.
For some reason, this extraordinary harbinger of summer seems to scare the bejeezus out of people. For the past month or so of Sundays, I've found myself lingering at a table covered with little wooden baskets filled with these delicate, delicious flowers. And without fail, I've overheard conversations like this one, between two veteran denizens of DC's biggest farmers' market:
"What would I do with them?" -"I don't know." "I mean, I love squash, but the blossom... whatever." -"I know. There must be a reason you never see them on a menu anywhere." "Exactly."
Verbatim? No. But you get the idea. So let's set the record straight, shall we?
First of all, a bit of demystification: they may look exotic, but we're just talking about the flower of the squash or zucchini here. On the farm or in the garden, they're ubiquitous this time of year. Squash are monoecious, you see, which means both male and female blossoms appear on the same plant. Only the female flowers will produce fruit (sometimes you'll see them still attached to smaller zucchini, courtesy of particularly gentle growers). However, early in the season, male flowers tend to dominate the plant, and when they realize there aren't many females around to pollinate, the male blossoms just give up, and drop right off the vine. Lucky us. Later in the season, we get a mix of male and female flowers to gather and enjoy; they all taste awesome.
Secondly, what you do with squash blossoms is fry them. It's so easy a child can do it, which, in fact, my six year-old daughter does (with some supervision around the hot oil, of course).
Finally, the reason you almost never see squash blossoms on a restaurant menu is that by the time they reached your table, they would be past their prime: these little lovelies are at their best straight out of the pan, not after sitting on the slide waiting for your server to make sure your companions' apps are ready to go, too. Chefs get this, which is why you don't see these treats often, even when they're in season, as they are right now. But you can bet that when the pros are at home whipping up a meal for friends, they've got squash blossoms sizzling away to snack on while they cook. And so should you.
The immediacy of this delicacy, the drop-dead simplicity of their preparation, and the uniqueness of their flavor, are what make squash blossoms so special. Harvest. Cook. Serve. Eat. It's what summer food is all about.
Now, you can jazz up squash blossoms if you insist. You can stuff them with a soft cheese -- some swear by ricotta. You can batter them in beer, or sprinkle them with cayenne. But we stick to basics. Olive oil. Flour. Milk. Salt. Squash blossoms. That's it.
So here's what you're going to do. Grab you're favorite skillet -- non-stick works great here, if that's how you roll. Take some good olive oil and cover the bottom of the pan, just a couple of millimeters or so. Then turn the heat to medium-high and let the oil get nice and hot.
While that's happening, put a couple of spoonfuls of flour into a shallow bowl, add a splash of milk, and whisk them together with a fork (or a whisk, if you happen to have one handy) until you have a thin batter. This isn't tempura, folks -- go too thick and you'll overwhelm the blossoms. Sprinkle in some kosher salt, whisk a little more, and you're good to go.
Dip your finger in the batter and flick it in the oil. If the oil sizzles, then you're ready to make the magic happen. Take a blossom between your fingers and dredge it in the batter -- I find a twirling motion to be particularly effective. Slide the flower carefully into the oil, turning it in a couple of minutes or so, when the pan-facing side is golden and crisp. You're done when the blossom is uniformly gorgeous in all its summer splendor.
Set it on a paper towel, give it another dash of salt, and pop it in your mouth as soon as you're sure you won't burn your tongue. Then invite your friends to hang around the kitchen. You'll feel satisfaction akin to sharing a really great secret. And they'll be eternally grateful.
See? There's nothing to be scared of... except missing out.