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Seasonal Pantry: Delicious ways to cook with squash blossoms


We're at a special point in summer's harvest, an intersession, so to speak, when there is plenty of zucchini on the vine and at local farmers markets but not so much that it's stalking us in our sleep.

"Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor's Porch Night," on Aug. 8, is still weeks away, although if we have too many more hot spells, look out, it will be taking over.

One way to prevent this is to harvest the blossoms before they turn into fruit. For this strategy to work, you must snag the female flowers, not just the male blossoms. You can recognize the difference because the stem of the male flower is straight and the blossom has no pistil. Female flowers have a round swelling at the base of the blossom; this is the ovary and it will grow, quite quickly, into a zucchini.

Some experts warn not to harvest the female blossoms, lest you not have enough squash. But isn't reducing the quantity part of the point? I've never heard a single person say, "Oh, darn, I ate too many zucchini blossoms and now I don't have enough squash." It's not going to happen, so don't worry about it. Besides, if your own plants don't produce enough, you can always wait until the morning of Aug. 9 and check your porch.

If you've got a surplus of squash blossoms, a simple way to use them that does not involve cooking is to simply remove their stems, julienne them and add them to salad greens.

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Squash blossoms make wonderful little packages that hold delicious fillings, perfect as an appetizer — and delicious with sparkling wine — and good as a first course, too.

One of the most common ways to fill them is with a blend of cheeses, and in this recipe I use two local ones from Bellwether Farms.

You may also fill squash blossoms with leftover polenta, leftover risotto and even leftover dirty rice, in which case I recommend serving remoulade sauce alongside. If you have leftover paella, fill the blossoms and make a simple Romesco sauce to accompany them.

<b>Fried Squash Blossoms Filled with Bellwether Ricotta and Pepato</b>

Makes 12 servings

<i>12 large squash blossoms, brushed to remove insects, dirt or dust

1 cup Bellwether Farms Sheep Ricotta

1 cup grated (4 ounces ) Bellwether Pepato or San Andreas

1 large pastured egg yolk

2 tablespoons freshly minced chives

?Zest of 1 lemon

Several gratings of nutmeg

Black pepper in a mill

Kosher salt

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 bottle of beer, preferably a pilsner

Cold mild olive oil or other vegetable oil, for frying

Lemon wedges, Cherry Tomato Salsa, Italian Style Salsa Verde or Zucchini Salsa (see note below), optional</i>

Set the squash blossoms on a clean work surface; if any are female blossoms, carefully remove the pistil. Trim the stems to no more than 1 inch. Set aside.

Put the ricotta, grated cheese and egg yolk into a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the chives, lemon zest, nutmeg, several generous turns of black pepper and 1 to 1 ? teaspoons of salt, to taste. Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate.

Put the flour into a mixing bowl, add a teaspoon of salt and pour in a cup of the beer, whisking all the while. If the mixture is too thick, add more beer and whisk well. The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate.

Pour about 2 inches of oil into a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven set over high heat. When the temperature reaches about 350 degrees, remove the filling and batter from the refrigerator.

Working quickly, fill each blossom with about 2 tablespoons of filling; twist the tip of the flower to close the blossom.

Set absorbent paper next to the stove.

When the oil is just about 365 degrees, dip 3 or 4 filled blossoms into the batter, turn to coat each one thoroughly and drop them, gently and one at a time, into the oil, waiting for it to return to temperature after each addition. Cook for about 2 minutes, use a long-handled wooden spoon to turn each blossom over and cook for 2 minutes more, until the batter is crisp and golden brown.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked blossoms to the absorbent paper.

When all of the blossoms have been cooked, divide them among individual plates, add a lemon wedge, salsa or salsa verde alongside, if using, and serve immediately.

<b>Note:</b> For the salsa recipes, visit Eat This Now, Seasonal Pantry's companion blog at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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Over the years, I've made several versions of this dish, which is both delicately delicious and beautiful, like sunshine on a plate. If you do not eat gluten, you can use a gluten-free pasta or, better yet, use a mandoline to cut zucchini into long noodles. Zucchini prepared in this way is really good and makes a perfect vehicle for the sauce.

<b>Sunshine Pasta</b>

Makes 4 to 6 servings

<i>2 dozen medium (about 2- to 3-inches) zucchini flowers, rinsed and dried on a tea towel

3 tablespoons butter

2 shallots, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

1 pound dried linguine

3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cups quartered cherry tomatoes, preferably yellow, golden or orange

1 cup (4 ounces) grated dry Jack or similar cheese

Black pepper in a mill

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons snipped chives</i>

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut the zucchini flowers in half lengthwise, remove the stalk and pistil, and cut the flower petals into medium julienne. Cover with a tea towel and set aside.

Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, add a generous tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, add the linguine, stir and cook according to package directions, stirring now and then. Drain but do not rinse the pasta. Melt the butter in a medium saute pan, add the shallots and saute over medium-low heat until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, saute 2 minutes more and season with salt. Remove from the heat and add the olive oil.

When the linguine is almost done, return the shallots to medium heat, add the julienned squash blossoms and the tomatoes, toss and cook until the blossoms just wilt and the tomatoes are heated through. Taste and correct for salt.

Put the pasta into a wide shallow bowl, add the sauce and the cheese, and toss together quickly. Season with several turns of black pepper, taste, correct for salt, add the chives, and toss again.

Serve immediately.

<b>Variation:</b> If you still have fresh favas, add about 1 1/2 cups (shelled, blanched and peeled) to the shallot mixture with the blossoms and tomatoes.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan has written 17 books to date, including "Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings." You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. Email Jordan at michele@saladdresser.com.</i>