The same afternoon I made focaccia, I also made stuffed, fried squash blossoms.
It was a Friday, and at the farmers' market that morning there was a new (to me) farm in attendance selling lettuces and cabbage and squash – and they had big bags of squash blossoms. So, of course, I bought some.
I'd never stuffed a squash blossom before, but that was no reason not to start.
I figured I could use some homemade ricotta and fresh herbs from the garden to stuff them and then dredge them in flour, then egg, then flour or flour and cornmeal or something before frying them. Bill had suggested using some of the leftover filling for chiles rellanos that we had in the freezer, but I really wanted to use cheese.
Squash blossoms open in the morning and that's when they should be picked. The flowers will stay open for a while after picking, but as the day wears on, they close up, and the petals eventually shrivel and shrink. They can still be stuffed, but they're very fragile and will tear easily.
The male blossoms are the ones that should be picked – these won't produce fruit – they just help pollinate the female blossoms, and it's the bees (or my intrepid husband) who actually deliver the pollen – like a box of chocolates – to the female blossoms anyway. The male blossoms just hang out on the vines, with their little yellow…um…stamens just waiting for the bees to come along and do all the work for them. When you are preparing these blossoms for stuffing, you'll need to remove the stamen and also check for any little bugs hiding out in there.
(male on the left, female on the right, in case you were wondering)
Some recipes call for you to slice the flower open, and this makes some sense, since it's pretty hard to remove the stamen without tearing the petals anyway. I didn't know about the slicing idea, however, until AFTER I'd made this first batch, so I just tried to do as little damage as possible. Next time I won't worry so much.
My biggest concern was how to keep the cheese from oozing out during the frying process. The outer petals were all shriveled and didn't look as though they could be counted on to hold any kind of a shape in the hot oil. Hmmm…what to do, what to do. (I could have looked up recipes in my cookbooks or online, but I wanted to figure it out myself.)
Well, as I was staring at the shriveled blossoms, I heard Bill's suggestion of the chiles rellanos filling again. AHA! I thought. Not the filling – I still wanted to use cheese – but the process of making the chiles rellanos. When we made those, I stuffed the peppers and then – here's the AHA part – closed them up with wooden skewers and then froze them. Perfect! That would work for the squash blossom, I figured. And it did.
So first I went out to the garden and picked leaves and sprigs of just about all the herbs we had.
I rinsed and dried an assortment for use in my blossoms and saved the rest for the focaccia or for other uses. Then I chopped up the leaves and mixed them in with the ricotta and some garlic paste and it was time to stuff the flowers.
Like I said earlier, the blossoms are very fragile and a bit hard to stuff. But I managed to stuff them by holding the blossom open in my left hand, securing the petals under my fingers somehow, and then spooning some of the ricotta in.
Then I'd kind of fold the petals together and pin them with a toothpick.
Once they were all stuffed and pinned, I put them in the freezer and set up three bowls for the dredging and dipping. First bowl had just flour. Second bowl – eggs and some milk. Third bowl – more flour. Next time, though, I think I'll use a blend of cornmeal and flour, for the crunch. I poured vegetable oil into a pot and started heating that.
When the oil reached about 360 degrees F, I took a few blossoms out of the freezer, did the flour/egg/flour dredge/dip/dredge thing with them all, and then gently lowered them into the oil. The toothpicks held, and there was very little, if any, ricotta seepage.
When the first batch came out,
I had to try one,
just to make sure they were fit for consumption by other people besides my immediate family.
They were. So onward I went and fried up the rest of them.
They may not look very exciting, and the crispy aspect didn't last once they cooled a bit, but they tasted pretty good and people seemed to like them. There weren't any left, as far as I know.
If you make them – and you should, if you have any sort of access to squash blossoms – just remember to remove the toothpicks before serving!