Zucchini flower, squash blossom, or courgette flower are the flowers of the zucchini plant. I first had them at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas some years ago. The second time I had them was in Rome. The most common and favorite Italian way of preparing them is to stuff them with ricotta or mozzarella, add some light seasonings and then deep dry them to a crisp golden tasty perfection. Their flavor is a very mild earthy floral combined with whatever they are stuffed with and a pleasingly soft, yet crunchy texture.
Several months ago, I made up my mind to get some blossoms when they were in season and try my hand at the floral treat. Little did I know how challenging it would be. I started by asking three different veg & fruit vendors at Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market. I thought for sure someone would carry them. I got three no’s. I then called Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market and again the answer was “no”. I looked online and found a restaurant wholesaler (oddly enough also in Seattle) that sold them, but at a very high cost for a large bulk order. Simply seeking information about the now elusive blossom, I called the restaurant wholesaler and got the following scoop. Sold by farmers who grow zucchini (obviously) the blossoms can only be harvested at night when the blossoms are closed. They are also very delicate and highly perishable; only good for about 24 hours. Lastly, most farmers don’t pick them because a picked blossom is a lost zucchini and less profitable than a less finicky squash. I hung the phone up thinking all was lost and I’d never get to work with them. Clearly not the end of the world, but I enjoy working with new ingredients and I was looking forward to the adventure.
Last weekend my husband and I were walking to Pike Place market on a phenomenally beautiful and very warm Seattle day to fetch some flowers as we were entertaining that evening. As we approached, I saw some additional vendor booths set up outside the market and remarked that if I were to ever find my squash blossoms, I’d probably find them from one of those suppliers. Within the first three stalls, I spotted them. My eyes honed in on a cardboard box of blossoms and a sign that said one pound for $20. Nearly jumping up and down, I gave a little shriek and smiled with extreme joy. The saleslady immediately noticed what caused my childlike reaction. Almost panting I exclaimed to whoever was listening, “Do you know how hard these are to find!?” She smiled and nodded. Without even thinking or considering just how many a pound would be, I said I’d take a pound. I pretty much cleaned out her entire supply. Overjoyed to have even found them, I would have easily paid more, but I happily handed her a twenty. I skipped off as if I had just won the lottery
I carefully wrapped them in a moist paper towel, blew air into their plastic bag, tied a knot at the top and gingerly placed them in the fridge. The clock had started ticking. I knew I had about 24 hours to make them.
I looked up several recipes online and ended up settling on a Bon Appétit recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms (see below). Untying the bag containing the blossoms, I realized just how many a pound is . . . a lot. I got the oil on the stove prepped with a thermometer, and the ricotta, mint and lemon zest mixture in a piping bag (easier to fill the blossoms). Filling the blossoms was a harder job than I thought, even with a piping bag. The recipe said to remove the stamens, but in doing so, you darn near destroy the flower. So I didn’t remove them in about half of the total prepared before I found a way to remove them that actually made filling them easier.
The batter was a flour and pilsner or lager style beer combination. Once the oil was 350 degrees, I was able to put 4 blossoms at a time into my Le Creuset dutch oven for 3 minutes each batch. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I removed each blossom carefully with a large wire scoop and put them on paper towels to drain and dry. I also added a finishing sprinkle of sea salt and they were ready to eat.
Well . . how were they? September of last year I wrote a blog post titled Overlooked Ingredients: Surroundings and Circumstance. Things I make at home never taste as good (to me) when I have an extraordinary first experience with the item I have recreated. IE: Mesa Grill and Rome are pretty hard to beat, so for me, they didn’t taste as amazing as they did the first two times I had them. But my husband and girlfriend (who had never had them before) though they were pretty great, so I guess there’s your answer.