Where Squash Blossoms Thrive, So do Appetizers
In an era of decorative plating involving bubbling cauldrons of liquid nitrogen and searing hot slabs of Himalayan rock salt, the edible flower has enjoyed a resurgence in restaurants that aim not only to titillate your taste buds but also to create a feast for the eyes. Chefs now deftly arrange bright orange nasturtiums and lavender petals on a plate as if they were crowning a bridal bouquet. But even though dandelions and marigolds make both colorful and tasty additions to summer salads, floral ingredients are often relegated to garnish rather than key components of flavor.
Squash blossoms, however, are a delicious exception. Wherever squashes grow (which is nearly everywhere), their blossoms lie in wait to be plucked by those who understand that these fragile flowers deserve more than a final burial in a compost pile. The most common are zucchini blossoms, which have a mild flavor reminiscent of the green and yellow vegetables that were once attached to their stems.From May through September, squash blossoms can be found in farmers markets from California to Louisiana and up into Vermont. Their thin, delicate petals are the perfect packaging material, and after a quick fry in oil these golden sheets crisp and crumble like nature’s own phyllo dough. An edible arrangement has never tasted so good.
Alon Shaya, chef and partner at Domenica in New Orleans, learned to love squash blossoms during the year he spent training throughout Italy. His crab-stuffed version is an adaptation of a recipe from restaurant LoRo just outside Bergamo, where they stuff blossoms with finely chopped shrimp. “The substitution of crabmeat reduces the necessary cooking time, which prevents overcooking of the blossom and creates a better balance of textures,” says Shaya.
Variations of fried squash blossoms are ubiquitous in Italy. As Shaya recalls, “Where I lived in Emilia Romagna outside of Parma, the zucchini blossoms are tempura fried and seasoned simply with salt and a squeeze of lemon.” Filling the blossoms with a mixture of soft cheeses adds a whole other depth of flavor and richness, which is offset by the acidity of the roasted pepper vinaigrette and drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. “Make sure to use very clean fryer oil and be careful not to overstuff the blossom past the base of the petals,” advises Shaya.