Thursday, July 8, 2010

The courtship of a squash blossom

Mention zucchini anywhere within earshot of my mother and sister and I guarantee what will follow will go something like, "Remember that year we planted about a dozen zucchini plants? We must have eaten zucchini at every meal in every variation on earth that summer!" Then, like Bubba in Forrest Gump..."fried zucchini, sauteed zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cake, raw zucchini..."

My senior year of high school we moved from Kansas town-living to a house in the country overlooking rolling wheat fields. The closest neighbors a half mile away. The house came with an old three-room chicken house, several barns and garages, thirteen acres of pasture, an apple and pear orchard and a nearly acre sized garden. Our naive ambition that first year completely ruined my mother on future vegetable gardening. We filled the entire plot with rows and rows of vegetables. And of course the aforementioned dozen zucchini plants. By the end of the summer, we let the weeds take over, and she never planted a garden that size again. A few years later the garden was tilled up all together and turned into a horse riding pen. Every once in a while she'll throw a tomato plant in with the flowers, but that's about the extent of it.

Now that I live in an apartment in-town, I pine for that garden. I've been lucky this year. We have friendly neighbors who tilled up my very own plot and I've been able to grow a few things. Still being a little leery of zucchini plants, I chose summer squash instead. Four of them. Which is still more than one family can eat,but I'll suffer through the abundant squash for the chance to harvest the blossoms. About six years ago, my mother sent me an Italian cookbook that included a recipe for stuffed, fried squash blossoms, and ever since I've been waiting patiently (well, not really) to be able to make them. They don't keep well, so I never see them sold in stores.

Yesterday (!!!) I was able to sneak a few of the male blossoms for stuffing! Only three, but still! There is a fair amount of expectation riding on a recipe you've been waiting six years to cook. You're set up for pretty big disappointment if it's not what you'd thought it'd be. On the other hand, if it's everything you thought it would be and more, the satisfaction is that much greater. Which is exactly the case here! They were fantastic! Really. Good enough that in the future I might consider growing a dozen squash plants. And that's saying something.

Fiori di Zucca Fritti
(fried, stuffed zucchini flowers)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup cold sparkling mineral water
1 tblsp vegetable oil, plus oil for deep-frying
2 oz mozzarella cheese
10 anchovy fillets, cut in half crosswise
20 large squash blossoms

In a small bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the eggs, mineral water, and the 1 tblsp vegetable oil and whisk just until blended. Cut the mozzarella into sticks 1 inch long by 1/4 inch thick. Pat the anchovies dry with paper towels

In a heavy frying pan at least 3 inches deep or in a deep-fat fryer, pour oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat to 375 degrees on a deep fryer or until a bit of the batter sizzles when dropped into the oil.

While the oil is heating, gently spread open the petals of each flower and carefully pinch out the filaments inside. Insert a piece of the cheese and the anchovy into each flower. Press the petals closed.

One at a time, dip the flowers into the batter, turning to coat completely. Lift out and drain off the excess. Working a few at a time, slip the flowers into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Continue with the remaining flowers. Serve immediately.

I think there are innumerable variations for stuffing the flowers. I stuffed mine with a middle-eastern cream cheese, an anchovy fillet, and a basil leaf.