Monday, July 23, 2007

A hat, a skirt and some squash blossoms

I was on the hunt for a cowboy hat in San Miguel de Allende’s outdoor market. As my friends and I weaved our way through the various stalls, we spied a woman sitting on the ground, her long full skirt topped with a display of squash blossoms. “Look, squash blossoms!” one friend said. As we were on a road trip through Central Mexico—three women in search of excellent Mexican food—I stopped and admired the squash blossoms. It was, after all, the first time I’d ever seen them fresh. “How would you eat them?” I asked my friend. She said her favorite way to cook them was deep fried, though when stuffed with cheese or tossed in a salad they were tasty as well. I was intrigued, but since we didn’t have access to a kitchen, I did not purchase any squash blossoms that day and continued on my quest for a hat.

It would be two years until I saw fresh squash blossoms again. This time I was in Union Square’s Greenmarket. As I made my way through the market, a basket lined with the bright orange flowers was like an exclamation point after the long passage of bins filled with produce green, yellow and red. While not quite as picturesque as being splayed out on a woman’s skirt, I didn’t hesitate to buy them, eager to finally try this summertime delicacy.

My first taste of squash blossoms was a surprise. I figured they would have a more sweetly floral flavor, much like rose petals. But instead they’re more savory, with a hint of the zucchini they would have become if not plucked from the ground. And when cooked, squash blossoms’ presence is more noted in its silky texture rather than an overpowering flavor—they are subtle, but delicious nonetheless.

Ever since then I’ve been intrigued by these fragile, fluffy flowers; at the farmer’s market here they are a true harbinger of summer—once they start arriving, corn, stone fruits and tomatoes can’t be too far behind. I find it’s better to buy them early in the morning as by afternoon they’ll be wilted and dehydrated, much like I am on a humid hot day. They don’t keep long, so after purchasing them I either dash home and whip something up or if it’s a work day, keep them in the refrigerator for a few hours and then have for them for dinner. I had read somewhere that you could store them for a few days with the stems stuck in a glass of water, but I found that not to be the case. And since they can be hard to find, you don’t want them to expire.

While I’m always a fool for anything fried, my favorite preparation with squash blossoms is in a quesadilla. Diana Kennedy has written about this dish, found all over Oaxaca. In true Oaxacan fashion, these quesadillas are made with fresh corn tortillas and Oaxacan cheese also known as asadero or quesillo. This stringy cheese has a mild flavor, and while it melts smoothly its thickness for some is a bit too chewy. If you don’t have access to quesillo, Monterrey jack or Muenster works just as well. And while I enjoy the flavor of grilled corn tortillas with the squash blossoms, being a Texan I still prefer to use flour tortillas for my quesadillas rather than corn.

Diana Kennedy insists they be sautéed with epazote—that quintessentially Mexican herb. It’s fairly easy to find it dried in Mexican grocers (or online at Penzey’s) and it’s also available fresh here in New York City at farmer’s markets in the summer. Plus it grows wild in many places, including Central Park. Epazote is like cilantro in that people either love it or hate it—there’s no middle ground with this herb. I, however, find its mintiness adds a certain brightness to a dish. And with tomatillos and green hot chiles such as jalapenos and serranos in season, my favorite topping for my quesadillas is a bright, fresh salsa verde.

I love the cowboy hat I eventually found in San Miguel that day, but even more, I welcome the introduction to what has become one of my favorite tastes of summer—squash blossoms. Though it took a while for me to finally get around to cooking them, whenever I do, I think of Mexico and that woman’s artful array of edible flowers spread out on her skirt. Squash blossoms—such a beautiful and exquisite treat!

Squash blossom quesadillas (adapted from Diana Kennedy)
Ingredients:
24 squash blossoms, stems and stamens removed.
1 poblano pepper
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 half an onion, diced
1 teaspoon of dried epazote (can substitute with 1/4 cup fresh cilantro)
3 cups of Oaxacan, Monterrey Jack or Muester cheese, grated
12 tortillas (can use either corn or flour)
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper to taste.

Method:
Put the poblano under the broiler for about five minutes, turning once until it blackens. Place in a plastic bag, close it and let it sit for about 20 minutes. After this time has passed, take poblano out of the bag, peel it (skin should shred off easily), remove stem and seeds and dice.
Gently wash squash blossoms (there might be bugs inside) and remove stems and stamens. Roughly chop.
Heat skillet to medium and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add onions and diced poblano and cook for about 10 minutes or until onions are clear.
Add garlic, epazote, squash blossoms and salt and pepper to taste and sauté for 10 minutes or until all the liquid from the flowers has evaporated.
Remove from heat and set squash-blossom filling aside.
In a skillet heated to medium, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add a tortilla and cook it on one side until it puffs (about 30 seconds).
Flip tortilla over and sprinkle over entire surface 1/4 cup of squash blossom filling and 1/2 cup of grated cheese.
Top with another tortilla, and after cheese has melted and the two tortillas stick together (a couple of minutes), flip quesadilla and cook for a couple of minutes more.
Repeat for the remainder of the filling and tortillas.
Makes six quesadillas.

If you’re not in the mood for a quesadilla, here are some other delicious ways to prepare squash blossoms:
Alanna gently sautés the blossoms so the flavor can shine.
Melissa makes a gorgeous squash blossom and Gruyere soup.
Pille whips up a lovely zucchini blossom frittata.
And Sassy Radish sings the praises of just simply frying them.

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33 comments:

Mom said...

Your Uncle Austin makes delicious squash blossom soup.
Love, Mom

Kalyn said...

I still haven't cooked them, although I've tasted them and they taste great! I love the idea of using them in quesadillas too.

Anita said...

We made them a couple weeks ago, stuffed with cheese, corn, and cilantro and then deep-fried and served over guajillo-tomatillo salsa... oh my, were they decadent!

http://marriedwithdinner.com/2007/07/10/summer-inspiration/

Meeta said...

What a lovely find. I cannot find these here as often as I'd like to.SIGH! This looks great though. The next time I find some I'll be sure to buy several so I can make this.

SteamyKitchen said...

I love squash blossoms...now that I can't find them here at the markets, I now have BLOSSOM ENVY

Joe said...

I've eaten them, but have yet to prepare them myself... at least I have a recipe to try them out now in an interesting way - thanks!

Lydia said...

Diana Kennedy never disappoints! By the way, did you ever find epazote in Central Park? I've wanted to hunt for it for months....

Pille said...

Zucchini blossom quesadilla sounds lovely, though I probably have to wait until next year, as my zucchini plants have finished providing me with blossoms :(
Thanks for the mention!

christine (myplateoryours) said...

I've only had 'em stuffed and fried. Love the idea of squash blossom quesadillas, but can you ask your mom to get that soup recipe?

And hey, how about a picture of you in the hat?

wheresmymind said...

I've never tried squash blossoms but I so wanna try 'em fried!

Homesick Texan said...

Mom--Do you have the recipe?

Kalyn--I'm surprised you've never cooked with them--can you not find them in Utah?

Anita--That sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing that yummy recipe!

Meeta--I think in places where they're hard to find, your best bet is just to grow some squash. People pick the blossoms because otherwise they'd be drowning in squash it grows so prolifically.

SteamyKitchen--No blossoms in Florida? That's a shame. I'd send you some, but, well, they probably wouldn't last the journey.

Joe--Give it a try--they're terrific!

Lydia--No, I want to do a tour with this forager because even though I know what epazote looks like fresh, I want an expert to tell me I'm not picking something poisonous. Soon, I hope!

Pille--You're welcome! I envy your garden!

Christine--I've asked her for the recipe and as for a photo of me in the hat--I'm on it!

Wheresmymind--Everything's better fried!

Garrett said...

I have always wanted to taste squash blossoms, and here another season is flitting away from me. I'll just live the experience through you.

Anonymous said...

That looks yummy! I have only had squash blossoms fried and absolutley love them. I hate squash and have actually grown the plants sole to harvest the blossoms. By the way, Pumpkin blossoms also work!

A Texan at Heart

Homesick Texan said...

Garrett--I hope you get to try them soon--there's always pumpkin blossoms in the fall.

A Texan at Heart--That's funny--I actually prefer the blossoms over squash myself, unless it's squash casserole!

Sandi @ the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Great post!
I have never had squash blossoms any way except fried. Now I can try Quesadillas!
I will need to keep my eyes open at whole foods~

Julie said...

I've only ever had squash blossoms fried -- and not too often; I don't find them at the farmers' market all that frequently.

One of these days I hope to find a steady enough supply (that will probably be when I plant enough zucchini to provide them) so I can try things like this, and soups, and pasta sauces with them.

The squash blossom pictures are lovely by the way. Such vibrant color.

Luisa said...

Never thought of preparing squash blossoms this way! I'm so stuck in my Italian-centric ways... thanks for the inspiration! Yet one more reason why I love your blog.

Terry B said...

The quesadillas do indeed sound delicious. But the photography is absolutely exquisite! Great job.

Texana said...

We left paradise (Texas) a year ago to live on the east coast. I discovered your website just before Cinco de Mayo and have been a fan ever since.

Your recipes are always a hit, as they taste just like home. Keep up the great work!

Tori said...

The first time I had squash blossoms I was in Mexico doing volunteer work for a month (high school). Cooked squash with a few blossoms was a treat we got twice, it was our only vegetable for the month!
I had them once in France filled with a delicate mushroom moose!

Thanks for reminding me of those wonderful times.

Homesick Texan said...

Sandi--When they're fried, they're the star, and while in the quesadilla they're an ensemble player, they're just as good. Enjoy!

Julie--Thanks! And yes, I think the best way to have a ready supply is to grow your own squash--which I understand is very simple to grow as it's very hardy.

Luisa--Awwwww....thanks. I love your blog, too! How do they prepare them in Italy? I was thinking of making squash blossom risotto next time I buy some.

Terry B--Thanks! Squash blossoms are very photogenic!

Texana--I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog! I have a blast writing it so it's very satisfying to hear others enjoy reading it.

Tori--Good night! I can't believe that's the only vegetable you had in a month. Wow! Those squash blossoms you had in France do sound exquisite!

Tommy said...

Hey nice lid. For special occasions right ?

I watched Jamie Oliver's show last night and he featured, you guessed it, squash blossoms (or courgette blossoms in the UK) .
Informative to learn to that you will most never ever see these puppies in a grocery store, but localfarmer's markets and they come in both male and female versions.

Female blossoms have a squash attached to them while males are without. I should have stayed in school.

The Naked Chef stuffed them with a ricotta /chili mixture, battered em up and deep fried them. Didn't look to bad. I imagine these blossoms are going to rise in prices now that are becoming popular, but if Florida can raise 4-5 strawberry crops per year, why not zucchini crops?

Susan said...

I simply adore squash blossoms and love this Southwest recipe, Lisa. Growing up, they were a treat my family and I savored every summer, and my Italian-American mom would batter and fry them. Everyone in the family would go crazy for them! I don't usually fry them anymore, but I do love them sauteed with baby veggies or in fritattas or stuffed with cheese and lightly sauteed. Thanks for a great post!

Homesick Texan said...

Tommy--Ha! Yes, special occasions such as taking a photo of myself for my blog! I haven't seen any female blossoms at my market, but it would be fun to get some with little zucchinis attached!

Susan--I need to try them the Italian way, sounds so delish!

Olivia said...

MMM YUM! The first time I encountered squash blossoms was in Rome, where I enjoyed it on a white pizza with just bufala mozzarella and the blossoms and a sprinkling of herbs. The subtlety of it was amazing and I have longed to eat it again...

Your quesadilla comes quite close, though more intense in flavourings.

radish said...

I know, i'm late in responding (but the rock called work fell on me)... the quesadilla idea sounds awesome - I'm going to have to try this after I come back from vacation, which cannot come too soon!!!

Homesick Texan said...

Olivia--Squash blossoms have been more popular in Europe than the US for a while, but I think we're finally catching on to how delish they are. I have to try that pizza!

Radish--Bon voyage! Enjoy your relaxation. The squash blossoms should still be here when you return.

steph- whisk/spoon said...

i bought some squash blossoms at the union square market last week. i had intended to stuff them with a ricotta mixture, batter and fry, but thought the blossoms weren't big enough to go thru the trouble. i found this recipe and made your quesadillas instead. they were wonderful!!

Rachel said...

FYI - in Spanish, squash blossoms are known as "locoro". There is an excellent Mexican/El Salvadoran restuarant in Austin called Costa del Sol, and they serve a very interesting and tasty locoro pupusa (this is how I learned the Spanish word for it - I had to ask what locoro was before I ordered the dish). Next time you are in Austin, I recommend you check out that restaurant.

suzie said...

I have made these with squash blossoms from my garden. Added black bell pepper and red onion, too. I found the squash blossoms are best uncooked. The second time I made them I added more raw blossoms right before serving. It added a nice crunch: http://twitpic.com/2a6sgw

Season with Reason said...

Made a variation on these last night all with ingredients from the UnSq Greenmarket - just fantastic! Thank you for a fun and delicious idea.

2ndfiddle said...

My parents came to live in America from Italy and we have always eaten Zucchini Squash Blossoms. Usually deep fried, but also mixed into a frittata. I have only one correction, the blossoms either already have a zucchini attached, in which case we leave them be so the zucchini can grow, or they just have a stem. We only take the ones with a stem, which would never become a zucchini. I love quesadillas and will give this recipe a try, it sounds really good! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My vegan substitution for stuffing squash blossoms is mashed chickpeas seasoned with cumin and cilantro and a little oil. Sometimes I'll also improvise and add corn kernels (frozen when the garden corn isn't ready yet) or pine nuts or cashews.

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