Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ricotta-filled Squash Blossoms

There is nothing like the thrill of finding that ingredient that you can only cook with for a few days or weeks of the year. Grape leaves, garlic scapes and squash blossoms are among the few things that I really get excited about this time of year.

When visiting Florence years ago, we found a foccaccia cafe and were intrigued by lovely and vibrant assortment of veggie flat breads. One particularly beautiful version was adorned with baby zucchinis with the orange flowers still attached. I had to order it because it seemed so unusual. Ever since, I have been seeking them out at the summer farmer's markets.

When I recently spied a few sunny squash blossoms laying listlessly on a farmer's table at the market, I quickly snapped them up!

 After trying them in various ways, I am convinced that they are best served stuffed with ricotta and gently fried. I have tried them baked but it really didn't come close to the fried version and the contrast in textures- crispy on the outside with the smooth and creamy interior.

If you run across these little wonders at your farmer's market or are growing your own, be sure to try this recipe! It is a fabulous appetizer, or it makes a very nice summer meal served with a salad or veggies. If you don't access to the blossoms, use the ricotta filling in cannelloni or large shell pasta and bake it in a basic tomato sauce. In fact, these blossoms might be nice baked in a tomato sauce like a baked pasta...hmmm, more exploration to begin! Let me know if you try it!

Ricotta-Stuffed Squash Blossoms
I like to use a drier ricotta in this recipe as it seems to hold together better while cooking. If yours is more liquid, perhaps strain it for a few minutes before mixing in the other ingredients. I also like to use only one egg, but if you want a smoother texture, you may want to use two eggs. Many people use a tempura batter for these as well, but although tasty, it seems to overpower the filling, This little "breading" treatment results in a nice crispy exterior without all the hassle of true deep frying.
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer, 2 as a meal

8 large squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta cheese (dry and slightly crumbly texture is good)
1 large whole egg + 1 egg white
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup minced herbs (parsley and basil are nice)
ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
olive oil

1. Gently ease open the blossoms and remove stamen, trying not to damage petals (although it is sure to happen, so don't worry too much!)
2. Heat an inch or two of oil in a cast iron pan or pot over medium heat.
3. Combine ricotta, 1 whole egg, parmesan, herbs and pepper in a small bowl until smooth.
4. Opening blossoms, place approximately 2 tbsp of filling into each blossom. Twist end of blossom to keep it closed. Repeat with remainging blossoms.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together egg white and 1 tbsp water until foamy. In another small bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper.
6. Dip each blossom into the egg mixture and turn to coat entire blossom. Gently roll in flour mixture. Repeat.
7. When oil is shimmering and hot (drop a small piece of flour into oil or end of wooden spoon in to see if it sizzles), gently ease blossoms into the hot oil. If it begins to burn, reduce heat before adding more blossoms. Working in a batch of 3 or 4, cook until golden and turn to cook other side for a total of approximately 2-3 minutes. Repeat with remaining. Hold in low oven if desired for a few minutes. Sprinkle with just a hint of sea salt before serving.