Sometimes the flower tastes as sweet as the fruit

Published 11:59 pm Friday, June 12, 2009

We have been blessed or maybe cursed with an abundance of squash blossoms these past few weeks. It is cliché among home gardeners to have too many squash. Before most squash start producing, the plants begin to produce male flowers that are the easiest to stuff. But the female flowers with small, attached squash are even better with the baby squash adding to the ensemble.

Our experience began this year with a pumpkin vine that volunteered in the compost pile. Our squash had been planted later so we began using the blossoms of the pumpkin as well as eating the attached baby pumpkins with their blossoms.

Of course my husband wanted me to find some delicious ways to use this serendipitous produce. Eating squash blossoms is not a Southern thing, so after some research in my French cookbooks I found they could be delicious, stuffed with the right ingredients. The secret to stuffing them is to get them early in the morning, before they close up on you. Once inside the house you can clean them and stuff them and refrigerate them and they will stay until you need them later in the day or even tomorrow. You will not find squash blossoms in our local markets so this is definitely a home gardener’s province. Any squash blossom is fair game—including the traditional zucchini, as well as pumpkin.

Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed With Goat Cheese and Basil

8 ounces fresh goat cheese

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

12 zucchini blossoms

Fine sea salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cheese on a large, flat plate. Sprinkle with the basil and mash with a fork until the mixture is evenly blended.

With a sharp knife, carefully cut through one side of a zucchini blossom to slightly open it up. With a demitasse spoon, spoon the cheese into the blossom. Carefully close the blossom and arrange like a spoke on a wheel in the baking dish. Repeat for the remaining blossoms. Season lightly with salt. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil. Cover with aluminum foil.

Place in the center of the oven and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Serve immediately.

One day I had no goat cheese so I mixed some cream cheese and feta with the basil and baked it the same way and it was also very good. Experiment with your favorite soft cheese or substitute some other herb flavor for the basil—parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme? I have also used these ingredients and then coated the blossoms with a wash of egg and milk, then dipped in crumbs and fried in olive oil until crisp. This is wonderful also.

Julia Child, who I go to when in need, has a wonderful recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms. This recipe is assuming that the small zucchini are still attached but you could stuff the male flowers with this stuffing using small zucchini that have lost their flowers for the stuffing.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

For 4-6 servings

12 baby zucchini no longer than 5 inches, flowers attached

3 tablespoons finely minced shallots or scallions

4-6 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup lightly pressed down crumbs from fresh homemade type white bread

Salt and freshly ground pepper

A little water, as needed

Preparing the zucchini: Cut off the zucchini 2 inches below the flower ends. Whittle down the remaining part to a fat point, leaving a collar of green at the flower end. Mince the remaining zucchini pieces very fine along with all shavings and peelings; twist them in a corner of the towel held over a bowl to extract their juices.

The stuffing: Sauté the shallots or scallions briefly in 3 tablespoons of butter just until tender; add the minced and squeezed zucchini pieces and stir several minutes over high heat to cook them through and evaporate their moisture. Blend in several tablespoons of bread crumbs, just enough to make a mass that holds its shape lightly, for stuffing. Season carefully to taste with salt and pepper—you should have about 1 ½ cups, or 2 tablespoons per zucchini flower.

Stuffing the zucchini flowers: Divide the stuffing into 12 portions; slit the flowers down their sides, insert the stuffing with a teaspoon, and fold the flower around it. Smear a tablespoon of butter in a large frying pan, and arrange the zucchini in it, in a single, closely packed layer. Salt lightly, and pour in the reserved zucchini juices plus enough water to make 3/8 inch of liquid in the pan.

This can be prepared ahead of time.

Cooking and serving: Bring to the boil on top of the stove, cover, and boil slowly for several minutes, until the zucchini are barely tender when pierced with a small knife. Carefully transfer to a hot platter or plates; rapidly boil down the cooking juices until syrupy. Remove from heat, swirl in an additional tablespoon or two or butter, pour over the zucchini and serve.

This is a pure and lovely dish, worth serving alone or as a first course, no cream here but a certain amount of butter.