I so wanted to taste these again – to make them myself – that I planted two yellow squash plants in my garden this year, just for flowers (and tiny finger-sized squash, because there’s no way we can eat enough flowers to keep the squash from coming, so might as well enjoy them).
But my chance came before my own plants flowered. As Arne and I walked through La Montanita Co-Op a couple of weeks ago, there it was in the produce aisle: a basket of beautiful orange-and-gold blossoms, twisted into lovely whorls at the top. We bought six at 79 cents a pop and rushed them home, bubbling with excitement.
I carefully rinsed the blossoms, then embarked on the most difficult part of the process: teasing open each flower, pinching out the stamen, and filling the blossom with a simple mixture of ricotta and Parmesan cheeses. After a few blossoms and a little cursing under my breath, I got the hang of it without tearing anything.
Incidentally, most squash blossoms used for eating are male, since only the females produce fruit. The pollen-covered stamen I removed from each flower is the male reproductive organ. I’ve since harvested a few female flowers from my own garden, and they have more complicated – and rather beautiful – insides. The squash plant is monoecious, as it bears both male and female flowers on the same plant. And I’m going to stop the biology lesson there, while I’m pretty sure everything I’ve said is correct.
I was surprised at how simple this whole procedure turned out to be. Once I’d stuffed each flower and twisted it closed again, I made a simple, tempura-like batter with nothing but flour, salt, and chilled carbonated water. (Yay for my Sodastream! I love that thing.) After heating some oil in a deep skillet to about 350 degrees, I dipped each blossom and slipped it in to sizzle and crisp. One turn after the bottom side turned golden, and they were ready to eat!
And another lovely surprise: They were amazing. I really hadn’t known what I was doing, so I didn’t expect much of my first attempt. But the flowers tasted delicately of zucchini; the batter was light and crisp; the cheese was warm and gooey. I was so sad that I only had three to eat, because each one was a treasure and a delight. Really. Even the stems were delicious.
But – good news! My yellow squash plants have started pumping out blossoms. I see more cheesy, crispy, beautiful golden goodness in my future….
I know this looks fussy, but except for the delicate work of stuffing the blossoms, it’s startlingly simple.
Ricotta-Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms
Serves: 3 to 4 (or 2 very lucky people)
12 squash blossoms
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, mint, or other herbs, if desired
1 cup flour
Big pinch salt
1 cup chilled carbonated water
Vegetable oil for frying
Gently rinse your squash blossoms. Tease open each flower and remove the stamen or pistil.
Mix together ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese. Season with pepper and fresh herbs if you feel like it. (I didn’t use herbs, but it would be lovely.) Taste for salt – the Parmesan is salty, so you probably won’t need any, but add a little if you like.
Using a small spoon, put a teaspoon or two of cheese mixture into each flower. (The flowers could probably handle a tablespoon, but I found a smaller amount easier to stuff. Don’t worry too much about the amount; I know mine had different amounts of stuffing, but they were all delicious.) Twist the blossoms closed at the top.
Pour oil into a frying pan to about 1/2 inch deep. Heat to 350, or until a bread crumb or bit of flour sizzles right away when dropped in and and quickly starts to brown. (Or prep a deep-fryer according to manufacturer’s instructions.)
Stir the salt into the flour, then slowly pour in the water, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. The batter should be pretty thin, about the consistency of heavy cream.
Holding each flower by the stem, dip it in the batter to lightly coat, then gently transfer to the hot oil. When all are in, the first ones will probably be ready to turn. Turn each flower once with tongs when golden on the bottom, then cook another minute or two until both sides are crisp and golden.
Drain on paper towels. Try to resist eating them yourself before they hit the table. Or go ahead and eat them all… I won’t tell.