Every summer this time of year, I stalk zucchini plants in anticipation of the first golden flowers. If you have a garden full of squash, lucky you. Otherwise, like me, you can go to your local farmers market. The past few weeks, Palmer-based Rempel Family Farms have brought in, along with other pristine organic produce, a pile of large, fresh blossoms to the South Anchorage Farmers Market. Everyone’s always intrigued by the yellow blooms, and I often hear eager cooks exchanging recipes — they go into soups, top frittatas and pizzas, or make for a surprise filling in quesadillas. At home, I mostly get requests for them stuffed and fried with a tempura-like batter. It’s a bit messy, but so worth the effort. For an easier but equally delicious option, I just fill them with Italian burrata or ricotta cheese and a spoonful of black olive tapenade before twisting the tops and grilling them until just wilted. Warm on toasted bread or with greens and sliced summer peaches or cherries, these blossoms make for a perfect hot-weather salad. For a quicker, lighter bite, you can also fry these without the stuffing. And if you want to have them as a sweet bite, batter and fry without filling and dust hot out of the fryer with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
NOTE: You’ll need to harvest the large male flowers (male flowers are larger and tend to hang out on tall, thinner stalks, whereas female blossoms are smaller and grow closer to the center of the plant). Pick them early when the day is cool. Brush off any insects with a damp paper towel. If it’s absolutely necessary to rinse them, do so with a very gentle sprinkle of water and pat dry. It’s best to cook these right away, but unwashed blossoms will keep a day or two in refrigerator until ready to use.
Stuffed and fried squash blossoms
8 to 12 squash blossoms, depending on size
8 ounces soft goat cheese, at room temp
2 ounces grated mozzarella (or other favorite cheese)
Salt, to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
Optional fillings: toasted pine nuts fresh basil, tapenade; lemon zest; anchovies
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt (or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup club soda, seltzer or Pilsner beer
Optional garnish: grated Parmesan
Grapeseed, avocado, or other vegetable oil (about 4 to 5 cups)
1. Gently wipe away any insects from the blossoms using a damp paper towel. Carefully remove stamens from inside the blossom, being careful not to tear too much into the flower; leave stems attached.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together softened goat cheese, mozzarella, pinch of salt and garlic. Add optional filling ingredients like fresh basil or toasted pine nuts. Stuff blossoms about halfway, being careful not to overstuff them; you don’t want cheese bursting out into the hot oil. Twist the tops and place on a sheet pan or baking sheet.
3. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and pepper together. Whisk in the club soda, add 1 tablespoon water at a time; the batter should be somewhere between pancake batter and heavy cream. Let batter rest 10 to 20 minutes. Fill a large heavy-bottom pot with oil over medium-high heat; oil should reach 2 to 3 inches up the sides of pan, leaving at least 2 inches of room. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place near where you’ll be frying. If you have a splatter screen for frying, this would be a good time to use it.
4. Test oil by dropping a tiny drop of batter into the pan; it should sizzle. When oil is hot (345-350 degrees) but not smoking, holding the stem end, dip the blossom into the batter, letting any excess batter drip back into the bowl. Gently place the blossom into the hot oil. Repeat with several more blossoms, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Place splatter screen over pan, if using. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, turning often with tongs, and until blossoms are light golden-brown. NOTE: If blossoms brown too quickly, reduce heat slightly. Remove cooked blossoms to paper towel-lined baking sheet. Let oil come back to medium-high heat and repeat with remaining blossoms. Serve while hot and crisp, sprinkled with some salt or grated Parmesan, or with a fresh grated tomato sauce (to make, take 2 to 3 ripe tomatoes, cut one end off and then grate using a box grater; add salt to taste and fresh garlic minced, if desired).