Behold the squash blossom. Mermaid's Purse of the garden. Princess of perishability. An intimidating proposition for those accustomed to artichokes. A humbling revelation for squash enthusiasts convinced they've mastered all the intricacies of the zucchini. Edible flowers are something curious you will come across at the Farmers Market, heaped in a colorful pile, the color of a Garibaldi fish, all of summer's allure packed into a small blossom.
Squash blossoms can be eaten raw or cooked, but must be used soon after they are picked. Male squash blossoms grow on long stems, while female blossoms appear at the end of the squash itself, but both can be used interchangeably. If we did a retrospective of menus across Los Angeles this past year, it would be riddled with squash blossoms. At Pizzeria Mozza, they are served fried with ricotta cheese. At the Hungry Cat, they are stuffed with shrimp. At Antojitos Chilangos, in Highland Park, you can have them buried under melted cheese in a quesadilla.
Chef Don Dickman admits that the thought of handling such a delicate thing, let alone dropping it into a pan of hot bubbling oil, can be intimidating. At his restaurant, Barbrix in Silver Lake, squash blossoms are fried in a simple batter of cake flour and sparkling water and then stuffed with goat cheese, basil, chives, mint, and fresh thyme. The key to a successfully fried squash blossom, Dickman explains, is a thin batter. Why sparkling water? "It's an old trick," he says. "A lot of different cuisines that use batters use sparkling instead of still water. It ends up yielding a lighter batter. Just like with beer batter. Heavy batter is like lead. The Japanese are good at frying. When you fry, you want the batter to be as light as possible, but you want the coating to be there. Light inside, crunchy on the outside."
In Italy, squash blossoms tend to be pan seared rather than fried. Dickman recommends this simple method for people cooking at home who are interested in experimenting with the squash blossom but don't feel like braving the fryer or dealing with the mess. "They're delicate, you gotta be careful picking em up when you're done, but it's a great way to do them," says Dickman, who recommends serving them on marinated tomatoes, or baby lettuce. You can also toss them with pasta or use them as a pizza topping. One caveat to squash blossoms, Dickman warns, is the stamen inside each male blossom. At Barbrix, they use a pair of fish pliers (used to remove bones from fish). "It's the perfect tool to nip that baby out of there," says Dickman. "If you go in with your fingers, you tear apart the blossom itself."
Barbrix Squash Blossoms
Note: From Don Dickman of Barbrix. For the goat cheese, Dickman recommends Laura Chenel or Redwood Hill.
1 cup cake flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sparkling water
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese, drained
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
2 teaspoon mint, finely chopped
2 teaspoon basil, finely chopped
2 teaspoon parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoon chives, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1. Whisk the batter ingredients until just combined, being careful not to overmix.
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2. Remove stamens from the inside of the blossom.
3. Mix the filling ingredients until thoroughly combined.
4. Using a pastry bag or 2 small spoons, carefully fill the blossoms. Don't fill them all the way; twist the top over the filling to make a packet.
5. Either heat a pot of oil to the proper temperature for frying, or heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Dip the stuffed blossoms in the batter and fry in the hot oil, or saute them, carefully turning them as they cook.