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.
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
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.