Summer squash season is at its peak in our local farmers market. The same is true for our neighbors who grow a zucchini plant or two. There are lots of delicious recipes for summer squash, but even the biggest fan tends to grow a little weary about now. Zucchini bread and cake can’t be far away. For all of that, now is the time to start cooking with squash blossoms – they are almost as versatile as the fruit itself – you can put them in scrambled eggs, omelets, soups, salads, and quesadillas. But my favorite way to prepare them is to stuff them, dip them in a light tempura batter, and deep fry them.
Several vendors at our local farmers market specialize in these beautiful offerings, so it is easy to find baskets filled with golden-yellow, delicate blossoms. The farmers usually sell the flowers by the dozen, and you can pick out your choice specimens. If you are a home gardener, you can harvest your own. Select the male flowers (those growing on long stems) so you can keep your harvest of squash (that develop on the female flowers) coming until the cold weather. Whether you buy them or grow your own, you should use the flowers as soon as possible after they are picked. For those from the farmers market, try to use them that same day. They will keep for another day if you keep them in a bag in the crisper of your refrigerator, being careful not to squash them – so to speak.
Some recipes call for removing the long stamen from the center of the flowers before you stuff them, but I prefer to just leave that in (it’s perfectly edible), and my experience is that trying to remove it often leaves you with a mangled flower.
When it comes to a choice of stuffing, let your imagination go. Something light probably works best, and don’t use anything that takes a long time to cook, because the battered blossoms will brown in a flash. My favorite stuffing mixtures include cream cheese, good melting cheeses, mushrooms, and nuts.
Stuffed squash blossoms are a perfect accompaniment to cold drinks on the patio, but be sure to make plenty – at least three per person – because they will disappear more quickly than a frosty margarita.
2 Tablespoons butter
4 mushrooms, washed and chopped finely
2 green onions
1/4 Cup unsalted green pepitas, chopped coarsely
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
12 squash blossoms
1 Cup all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Cup beer, cold
peanut oil for frying
1. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the finely chopped mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have released their moisture and it has evaporated.
2. Clean and chop the green onions, including much of the green stems. Then add to the mushrooms, along with the pepitas, continuing to stir frequently for 2 or 3 minutes until the mixture is well combined and evenly cooked. Add the seasonings and remove from the heat to cool.
3. When the mixture is completely cooled, stir in the cream cheese and grated Parmesan, correct the seasoning, and prepare the squash blossoms for stuffing. Do not wash the blossoms
4. One blossom at a time, open the flower gently, spreading the petals so that you can see the deep hollow of the blossom. With your fingers, place about a heaping teaspoonful of the stuffing mixture into the hollow and press it down carefully so that you do not split the petals. Then gently fold the petals over the stuffing, one at a time. You can use a tiny dab of the stuffing mixture to seal the last petal to the little package you have made. Place the stuffed blossom on a plate with the stem pointing straight up.
5. Repeat the process until all the blossoms have been stuffed and arranged on the plate. Transfer the plate to the refrigerator until you are ready to fry the squash blossoms
6. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, corn starch, baking powder, and salt. Then stir in the cold beer. If you prefer, you may substitute a cup of ice water for the beer. The beer will foam up. Don’t worry. The batter will be lumpy. Again, don’t worry – and don’t try to make it smooth.
7. While making the batter, heat enough peanut oil to be about 3 inches deep in a deep-sided pot. Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the oil is at 350°. You are then ready to fry the blossoms.
8. Remove the blossoms from the refrigerator, dip them in the batter one at a time and transfer them to the cooking oil. You may fry three or four at a time, but be careful not to crowd them. Turn them once while they are frying, and remove them when they are a pale golden brown. Be careful not to let them brown too deeply. Drain them on several thicknesses of paper towels, and serve them immediately while still hot. If necessary, you can hold them for a short time in a 200° oven, but the fresher they are, the better.
Yield: Serves four with drinks