Zucchini blossoms are all the rage these days
It can be a real shock to buy summer squash in winter, when zucchini that is all but free in August is over a dollar a pound in the winter. Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo), like all squash, originates in the Americas. Like the tomato, Italians took the squash to heart and soon incorporated them into their cuisine. The varieties of summer squash we call zucchini developed in Italy. “Zucca” is the Italian word for squash and “zucchino” is the diminutive form, meaning “little squash.” “Zucchini” is simply the masculine plural.
These squash are quite the little guys in the garden. But now it is the flowers that have taken front row, as more gardeners and chefs discover the delicate taste of squash blossoms. The variety “Zuccino da fiore” means “bred to produce flowers.” Even though you may get some insignificant small fruit, mostly you get plenty of very large flowers for cooking. Make sure you pick the flowers every day or two to keep them from setting fruit and to encourage the plants to bloom more. Zucchini da fiore grows on vines, so plant them in hills a good five feet apart.
As a bonus, the small zucchinis that occasionally do form are quite edible. Even when they are medium large they contain few seeds, so this is a very versatile variety.
Growing zucchini for blossoms is a delight, and the flowers are tasty and so easy to grow. Even a single hill of three or four plants will yield more fresh blossoms than you can eat every day. Costata Romanesco is another traditional Italian zucchini noted for its ability to produce many edible flowers. Zuchetta Serpente di Sicilia - Serpent of Sicily is actually a gourd (it has white flowers rather than yellow like squash) that is grown and eaten like a summer squash. Zuchetta Serpente di Sicilia is popular throughout southern Italy with fruit that can grow up to three feet long. Like all summer squash, the fruits are best when picked young, under a foot long. This is a vigorous grower with vines that can easily run 25 feet.
In addition to the flowers, you can eat the tender green growing tips of the summer squash vines. Pinch off the very top two or three inches of the growing tips and fry them in olive oil or steam them like any greens.
Squash blossoms have a pleasantly sharp herbal flavor. You can stuff them with goat cheese and then deep-fry them. Try dipping the blossoms in a light batter and fry them as fritters. You can stuff them first with ricotta, fresh mozzarella or goat cheese mixed with herbs such as basil, thyme, and parsley. Add a bit of lemon zest to the cheese mix for added tang. Simply fried in olive oil, the crispy blossoms need nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice and coarse salt.
If you don’t want to deep-fry them, stuff the blossoms with cheese or ground beef mixture and bake them in the oven as a casserole. You can also gently steam the blossoms as you would spinach or greens. To add squash blossoms to pasta sauce, gently tear or cut into thin strips (a chiffonade) and serve over pasta, risotto or on a green salad. You can also add the chopped or torn blossoms to any pasta sauce, where they will cook down much like spinach.
In Mexico, squash blossoms, known as “Flores de calabaza,” make an excellent addition to quesadillas. Shred the blossoms and add to any creamy cheese filling over tortillas for a sweet, savory snack.
If you need to store zucchini blossoms, wrap them between damp paper towels, seal them in a plastic bag, and store them in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Any summer squash will give you lots of blossoms, though specialty varieties can be found in mail- order catalogs such as Italian Seed and Tool, HC 12 Box 510, Tatum, NM 88267-9700; or Seeds from Italy, PO Box 3908, Lawrence, KS 66046; Telephone 785-748-0959.
Plan now to plant zucchini for flowers and summer will be, if not a bed of roses, a bed of delicious blossoms.