Ah, the garden gifts of July: dahlias, lilies, my beloved hydrangeas. Still, those are simply pretty. A few steps away, in the vegetable patch, others are simply delicious. Bell-shaped, vivid as sunset, zucchini blossoms are waiting to be stuffed, sliced, or wilted, to grace a plate as those hydrangeas do a vase.
Delicate, with a milder taste than their fruit (zucchini, like cucumbers and squash, are botanically a fruit), the blossoms herald the nascent fruit in female plants, so, if you’re growing them yourself, choose the long-stemmed, fertilization-purposed male flowers. And pick them in the morning, when they’re open; they’ll close up tight come mid-afternoon, becoming stuffing-challenged. Whether from your garden or a farmer’s, give them a gentle rinse, remove the stamen or pistil growing from the base, and put them to work. Go classic Italian: Fill with ricotta and basil or mozzarella and anchovies, then lightly batter and fry. Or slice, give them a quick sauté, and add to risotto; maybe pair with goat cheese on pizzas or frittatas. If the season has you labor-averse, a minute with a knife will yield an instant colorful salad.
At Meritage (1505 Weaver St, Scarsdale 914-472-8484; meritagerestaurant.net), Chef Chris Vergara exults in all the options, and to his heart’s content, since he can source the blossoms from two very convenient gardens: his mom’s, and his Dobbs Ferry restaurant’s, Harper’s. “We’ll put them in salads with corn, cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, and basil, or stuff them with ricotta and tomato confit,” he says. But his hands-down favorite? “My Mexican cooks’ quesadillas. They fry the flowers, and then add cheese, epazote, salsa verde, and crema. We snack on them while we’re working.” It may be a snack to them; sounds like a menu crush to me.
Courtesy of Chris Vergara, Meritage
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz fresh goat cheese, softened
3 oz fresh ricotta
1 Tbsp Parmesan, grated
½ cup red onion, ¼-inch dice
½ cup yellow squash, ¼-inch dice
½ cup eggplant, ¼-inch dice
½ cup mixed red and yellow
bell pepper, ¼-inch dice
½ cup tomatoes, peeled, seeded,
finely chopped (canned is fine)
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
2 Tbsp mixed herbs like
basil, parsley, chive, minced
12 medium to large
zucchini blossoms, cleaned,
Salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste
Batter (see below*)
Vegetable oil, for frying
In a large bowl, mix cheeses until well combined. In a medium pan, heat olive oil over a low-medium flame. Add vegetables and sauté until softened, but not browned. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Stir in herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fold vegetable mixture into cheeses, check for seasoning. With a small spoon or piping bag, carefully stuff blossoms ¾ full.
*For Batter: Use your favorite, or prepare by combining 2 beaten egg yolks with 1 cup ice water or club soda. Add 1 cup flour and ¼ tsp salt, mixing constantly until it’s the consistency of heavy cream.
In large heavy-bottom pan over medium-high flame, heat 3 to 4 inches of vegetable oil until shimmering (375°F). Dip stuffed blossoms, one at a time, into batter, remove excess batter, and carefully fry, turning until golden brown. Remove onto paper towels, season with salt, and serve immediately.