by Cathy Erway
You might see them at the market and think they’re pretty, but it can also be pretty darn confounding trying to figure out what to do with them. Long, bell-shaped, yellow and orange blossoms, primed for…something fantastic, you’re sure. But what?
This is the dilemma that many a Greenmarket shopper might have after chancing upon these pretty blossoms at the market, cut at the bud and ready for cooking, rather than vase-implanting. Friendly farmer Kira Kinney of Evolutionary Organics is partly responsible for the confusion — she’s been selling squash blossoms in packages just like those pictured above for the past few weeks. The farm, which is based upstate in New Paltz, grows a wide array of less-ordinary heirloom produce. Many are labeled in detail with characteristics and a few cooking tips. But the farm doesn’t shy away from less-flashy offerings either – like turnips and rutabaga (of which the farm grows several varieties).
The brilliant yellow squash blossoms are an eye-catcher, and a natural byproduct and bonus of growing summer squash. According to Kira, they bloom along the plant’s sprawling vines just before it produces fruit. Both male and female squash plants have flowers, which are edible with pistils and stamens removed. But only the female plants bear fruit. Zucchinis and all manner of summer squash grow directly behind the budding petals of the female plants.
While some see the blossoms as ornamental, to many home gardeners — and in many traditional cuisines — they’re a delicacy all their own. In Italy, a classic dish calls for stuffing the partially closed “fior di zucca” with ricotta and frying them in a pan. Another favorite use for the flowers is folding them into quesadillas.
While shopping at Grand Army Plaza, I bumped into Jeanne Hodesh, a publicity coordinator for GrowNYC, who had recently done both.
“The blossoms are really good, but with most preparations you end up eating a lot of cheese,” she remarked of traditional ways to serve the squash blossoms for food.
I can sympathize. As a non-cheese-a-holic, I’m always looking for ways to enjoy the flowers that don’t mean being filled with or otherwise drenched in cheese.
“They have a mild, sweet flavor on their own,” Jeanne added, and suggested tossing them into any salad mix for a bright splash of color and a more delicate, leafy change in texture.
I found another stroke of inspiration in the recent music video from my friend Josh Greenfield’s solo outfit, “YuNork” In it, he and his brother Mike are preparing to make fried cheese-stuffed squash blossoms dipped in a thick batter, but when the ricotta turns out to be sour (or moldy, as shown proudly to the camera by Josh), the brothers instead stuff the blossoms with an impromptu mix of sauteed onions, garlic and purple basil, with plenty of salt for seasoning.
Their playful approach reminded me that it doesn’t really matter what you fill or surround your squash blossoms with — much as the Italians probably once did, have fun preparing the blossoms with your own favorite ingredients.
If cheese is your thing, a mild one is probably best, to allow you to better appreciate the delicate flavor of the silky blossoms. Or throw them into a salad, quesadilla, or stir-fry mix – they’ll add mild flavor and a bold splash of color. It’s a neutral, beautiful addition to just about dish, and it’s an extra bonus of the summer season that most farmers and zucchini gardeners can’t resist.
I’m having some right now, wilted into a simple spaghetti with basil and garlic — the almost-sweet, slightly-bitter leaves just look lovely on a plate. If there’s anything to gripe about them, it’s certainly not their appearance, which just screams of summer bliss!
Columnist Cathy Erway hits the Brooklyn Greenmarkets for us every other week, picking out a particularly ravishing-looking seasonal ingredient, talking to the farmer who grew it, and speaking with a local chef about their favorite simple ways to prepare it.
Cathy is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove, based on her two-year mission to forego restaurant food in the city and her blog, Not Eating Out in New York. Last spring, she launched a rooftop garden at Red Hook’s Sixpoint Brewery complete with chickens and repurposed keg planters, which is the basis of her second blog, Lunch at Sixpoint. She hosts a weekly podcast on Heritage Radio Network, Let’s Eat In, which has featured guests ranging from Reverend Billy to Mark Bittman. She has written for Saveur, The Huffington Post, Edible Brooklyn and Brooklyn Based, and has taught cooking classes at the Greenmarkets, the Brooklyn Kitchen and WholeFoods.