Zucchini Blossoms and Summer

The first time I wrote about zucchini blossoms I almost didn’t. I mean, why write about an ingredient that so few people seemed to have access to—other than those lucky gardeners who, every summer, are blessed with a bumper crop of squash (and then have the nerve to complain about it)?

This was waaayyy back in 1994, when I was a writer at The Detroit News. I had just returned from a trip to Italy with my family, where zucchini blossoms (and the flowers of other summer squashes) are as common as tomatoes and peppers in summer, and where they had starred in just about everything we ate—pasta dishes, frittatas, and of course, platters of fritto misto (mixed fried vegetables).

Naturally I wanted to spread the word, with recipes. But then I tried to find them. Not even Eastern Market, Detroit’s famed weekly farmers’ market in the city’s downtown warehouse district, was carrying zucchini blossoms back then. I think I finally accosted a colleague with a garden, who was happy to part with something that would otherwise be tossed.

Nowadays, a basket of zucchini flowers, with their delicate orange ruffles peeking out, is a common sight at farmers’ markets, almost as common as zucchini themselves (which, I’m happy to say, are increasingly forced to share stall space with all manner of beautiful summer squashes in varying hues of green and yellow).

But, the thing is, I’ve found a lot of people still aren’t sure about what to do with those flowers. Recently, I did a Chef at Market cooking demonstration at the Freshfarm Market near the White House. I had planned to make a platter of bruschetta with pan-roasted cherry tomatoes (an adaptation from a recipe in my book Big Night In), which I did. But (in a rare moment of extra-preparedness) I had also brought along ingredients to make fried squash blossoms, in the hope that onlookers might be interested.

They were. A clutch of shoppers gathered as my daughter (and sous-chef) and I quickly battered and fried two baskets of blossoms, seasoning them lightly with salt. They asked questions as we worked (What’s in the batter? Can you stuff the blossoms? How else can you prepare them?). They listened to my answers, but what they really wanted was a taste. We passed out the blossoms and, hopefully, an appreciation for this lovely delicate gift of the summer garden.

So, how do you fry or otherwise cook zucchini and other squash blossoms?

Frying is easy—there are only two requirements and those are 1) a light hand, and 2) a light batter.

Squash blossoms are delicate and tear easily, so you must be careful when you handle them. They tend to harbor little bugs, so you need to gently open them and rinse them out and pat them dry with paper towels. You can, if you like, remove the pistil at the bottom of the interior of the flower, though this step is optional. Before frying, you can stuff them with a little piece of mozzarella and a basil leaf or a piece of anchovy.

As for the batter, there are many variations on the traditional Italian batter used to fry vegetables. Some call for milk and others water; some have an egg beaten in and others are egg-free. While I do like the richness of a batter made with milk, I find it to be too heavy for squash blossoms. Also, whatever is fried in a milk-based batter quickly turns soft (and eventually soggy). So I use water in my batter. In fact, I use sparkling water, which I find makes the batter lighter and turns out a lovely, crisp-tender fried blossom.

How else to cook squash blossoms? I poach fresh blossoms in vegetable broth for a light summer soup (the recipe for which can be found in The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy). I slice them and toss them with hot cooked pasta, dressed simply with butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. And, I use them to make beautiful frittatas. Simply arrange whole squash blossoms in the skillet right after pouring in your (beaten and seasoned) eggs and cook on the stovetop or bake in the oven.

Here’s my recipe for simply fried zucchini blossoms, one of summer’s nicest treats. Buon Appetito!

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup sparkling water (I use San Pellegrino)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 24 zucchini blossoms or other summer squash blossoms (with a portion of the stem attached, if possible)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

Vegetable oil for frying

Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Slowly pour in the sparkling water while still whisking, and whisk vigorously to smooth out any lumps. Whisk in the beaten egg and set aside.

Carefully rinse the zucchini blossoms in cold water. Gently pry them open and remove the pistil (this is optional). Pat the blossoms dry with paper towels.

Pour oil into a 12-inch skillet to a depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Place over medium-high heat and heat to 375 degrees. To test, drop a small amount of batter into the oil. It should sizzle immediately and float to the surface.

Holding a flower by the stem, gently dip it into the batter and let the excess batter drip off. Carefully place the flower in the hot oil. Repeat with three more blossoms—you don’t want to crowd the skillet. Fry for about 2 minutes on one side, turn (I use a fork for this step) and fry for another 2 minutes, until the blossoms are golden. Use a wire mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon to remove the blossoms to a platter lined with paper towels.

Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.

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