Friday, July 20, 2007

Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Lemon, & Herbs

Though they’ve become synonymous with our idea of “Italian” cuisine, it seems there are as many ways to prepare squash blossoms as there are towns in Italy. And I like it that way. Though it’s easy to spot certain regional themes, like the popular deep fried zucchine romanesche blooms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies from Rome, I think it’s important to resist codifying such things.

Who’s to say, for example, that a handful of Roman home cooks who favor a sheep’s milk cheese or skip the anchovy aren’t actually harking back to an older tradition? Once we take on a stance of knowing what’s “authentic” to a region, it’s so easy to stop noticing new information. I hope I always try to understand the instinctive thought process (what's available locally, what ingredient combinations are intuitive there) behind a region’s cookery rather than simply memorizing what I ate where. In other words, the most authentic thing I’ve ever noticed in Mediterranean food is difference. Difference from region to region, town to town, and family to family.

Here, then, are some squash blossoms I first ate in Rome, but there are no anchovies, and the cheese is a relatively new one. Ricotta was first made in Rome at the turn of the last century, when it was discovered that, after being split from the initial curd, whey could be heated again (ricotta means “recooked”). This second curd becomes soft, blindingly white ricotta, and, though the stuff we buy here in the States is far milder and sweeter than the sheep’s or buffalo’s milk ricotta you’ll find in Rome, I like both versions.

These blossoms are not battered or deep fried, which makes it much more likely that I’ll actually decide to whip up a batch. Psychologically, it seems like less work, and these take almost no effort at all. You can stuff them in the morning and stash them in the fridge until you want to make dinner. Just be careful to check the inside of each blossom for fauna before you add the ricotta-herb mixture. It’s not unheard of for something small to be found jealously clinging to its pollen within.

Squash blossoms are in season from early summer until the first frost, which I hope gives you plenty of time to try this recipe and then experiment with your own variations. That could, after all, be most “authentic” of you!

Serves 4 as an appetizer

16 – 20 squash/ zucchini blossoms
8 oz fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 stalks fresh oregano, leaves chopped
small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped, plus extra for sprinkling at the end
kosher salt
extra virgin olive oil

Gently check the insides of the blossoms for insects and dirt. Trim the tips of the stems.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, oregano, mint, and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Go easy on the salt if you’re not frying the blossoms right away – you don’t want the ricotta to go watery.

Gently open one of the squash blossoms and spoon a little of the ricotta mixture as far in as you can. You can use the petals to help you pull the stuffing off of the spoon and into the flower. You really don’t need much stuffing for each flower, and you may have leftover at the end, which you should discard because of the raw egg.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a generous glug of olive oil. Lay in some of the blossoms. Once they are golden on one side, turn them and cook about 2 -3 minutes longer. You may need to add more oil. Remove to paper towels to drain while you finish the rest of the blossoms, adding more oil as necessary.

Arrange the squash blossoms on a serving platter, sprinkle generously with kosher salt (adding more if you went light with the stuffing), spritz with the lemon juice, and sprinkle on some freshly chopped mint. Serve immediately.


Aileen said...

I'm closer this year than I was last year, which is infinitely closer than I was the year before that. But I still haven't managed to construct the infrastructure necessary to grow squashes on the tundra. I certainly have only the highest of hopes for next year! And if there is one leading motivation, it might just be zucchini blossoms! A few lifetimes ago, I was a nanny for an Italian family in a villa outside Fiesole. Lucilla, the mother, made a version of these - stuffed, I believe, simply with anchovies. I swooned. I could, in fact, still swoon from the memory alone. In the 11 years since, I've tried desperately to grow my own and re-create those lovely Tuscan summer dinners. I came close in Seattle - but moved before the garden hits its glory. Sigh. Next year, though....Next year will be the year! In the meantime, thank you for some fine vicarious living!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Oh Aileen I love Fiesole! What an amazing experience it must have been to live there. My professor from college in Florence and her family stayed in a home there for a few years that was so old it was mentioned in the Canterbury tales! Magical.

I love the idea of just anchovies. Do you know if she bought them fresh and marinated them at home or if she used ones already packed in oil? Or salt? I'd love to try and make it myself while the blossoms here are good and cheap.

And I can't wait to read all about your building a garden. What a fascinating, exciting process!

tribecachef said...

Great post, Amanda. I really agree with you on the dangers of codifying too strongly. Regional cuisines fluctuate just like everything else. The key is to, as you say, observe until we understand the intuitive food combinations and preparation methods of each place.

sognatrice said...

These look lovely; I'll be posting my zucchini flowers next week, I think. I made them the other day, stuffed with my cannelloni mixture of ricotta and spinach (and a touch of prosciutto crudo for fun)--very tasty :)

I used a batter on the outside, although I'll have to try your way if I find some more flowers this week....

Lydia said...

Beautiful! Squash blossoms have just started to appear at our local farmers' markets, and I'm always looking for new ways to stuff and cook them.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi tribecachef and thanks! It's what I work towards, but I could work at it for 2 lifetimes and still have more to learn!

Sognatrice - Love the touch of crudo! I can't wait to read how you do the batter too. I love batter on mine, but, as I say in the post, it feels like more work and better for special occasions. Let's call a spade a spade: I'm a lazy, lazy girl.

Hi Lydia! Isn't it wonderful when you first see them at the market? I get excited every year. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Cynthia said...

I've seen Bobby Flay on iron chef suff these before and have always wondered about the taste (not the stuffing), but the actual blossom itself.

Jan said...

Gorgeous photos as usual! These look divine - I love the lemon-mint combination for summer.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi there Cynthia! The flavor is a very mild version of whatever the squash tastes like, which makes the blossoms a lovely foil for all sorts of fillings!

Hi Jan! Thanks so much. I love lemon and mint together too - I have to be careful not to use it too often!

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

I like this recipe. Though squash blossoms just dont feature in our markets....
I am jealous of the choice of veg you get in NY.

Leonie said...

I just found your site through Orangette, and I love it! These squash blossoms and the lavender cake look great.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Charlotte - I'm so surprised about the squash blossom situation over there. I think of there being so many marrows and courgettes that I just assumed the blossoms would be harvested too. It could be so fun for Freddie to eat flowers. But don't be jealous - this time of year all I can think of are the raspberries and strawberries you get in Britain. They're truly the best in the world!

Hello Leonie, and welcome! I'm so glad you like the site. Enjoy the blossoms and cake, and do stay in touch!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I have never had squash blossoms and these look delicious! I love the filling you chose.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Patricia, and thanks! I really do love them - their flavor is so subtle, that you can really use anything for the stuffing. And they're great fried without stuffing or even in an omelette/ frittata. Hope you get the chance to try them soon!

Lucy said...

Lovely recipe. Adore those blossoms - love when they greet you early in the morning with their bright yellow.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thanks Lucy, and aren't they lovely blossoms? I know just what you mean. Right now they only greet me at the market, but I can't wait until we have a little bit of space, and I can grow my own!

TK said...

Hi! I realize this post is 2 years old, but I had to thank you for the lovely photos and the recipe, it's the best I've seen. I have monstrous and gorgeous squash here in SoCal, but I'm having to hand pollinate to circumvent blossom end rot (my first guess), and it seens to be working. But I want to get something from the plants so I check daily, and if they don't seem to be setting, I pull the baby zuchs off and fridge them until I have enough to fry up in olive oil, and sprinkle with grated pecorino romano, a dusting of coarse fresh ground pepper, and a pinch of kosher salt flakes.

I have been removing the blossom ends as well while they are still fresh but once the squash seems set, and so far so good, but it occurred to me I should be cooking those! I made a small plate worth tonight just lightly sauteed the same way, and they tasted lovely! While my husband was brave enough to try a couple, he let me have the rest, and assured me he knew that I wasn't trying to poison him, and that he knew some flowers were edible. I just have to show it to him in print, and so bookmarked your classy blog.

Thanks so much! I'm glad I found you!

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