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
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
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.