The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, July 27, 2009

Vintage Sicilian family recipe: Fried squash blossoms.

Zucchini flower image from Wikipedia.
My family is largely of Sicilian heritage, and some of our most treasured heirlooms are family recipes. This afternoon, I was able, finally, to taste one of the dishes that my great-grandmother used to make: fried squash blossoms! My mom and aunt have told me that they used to eat them for breakfast or lunch, either alone, or in sandwiches when they were at their grandmothers' house.

I never see squash blossoms in the supermarkets, and until last Friday, had never seen them at a farmers' market, either. The only way I knew to get squash blossoms is to plant pumpkins or zucchini in your garden, because you have to thin out the blossoms anyway or you'll stress the plant out. Imagine my excitement when I saw squash blossoms for sale at the San Pedro Square farmer's market last week! I bought a bag of them and brought them home to try and re-create my great-grandmother's recipe:

"pick and wash fresh squash blossoms of any kind. Dip in egg batter and pan fry in olive oil."

Of course, I didn't know exactly what she meant by "egg batter" -- was it egg with milk and flour, or some other mixture? I ended up bringing them to my mom's house and it turns out that she had seen her mother make them; the "egg batter" is only beaten egg. My mom showed me how to fry the blossoms and we cooked and ate my bag of squash blossoms for an early lunch. Easy! Here's what you do:

Try to use squash blossoms the same day that you pick them (mine were 3 days old and I think that's about the limit). Gently tear off the stem and cap of the squash blossom, along with the stamen and pistil, leaving only the petals, which will be attached to each other in a "cone" shape. If you do it right, you can keep the stem and cap in one piece with the stamen and pistil. Discard everything but the petals (the stamen and pistil are full of pollen which stains everything!), rinse the petals thoroughly and pat them dry on paper towels.

Heat some oil in a large frying pan, on medium to medium-high heat, and get out some eggs, flour, and salt. I think some dried or minced fresh herbs would be a good addition, too, but we didn't use them today. Break some eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork. Put some flour on a plate and mix in a pinch of salt; if you're adding herbs, add them to the plate of flour. When your oil is hot, make sure each blossom is dry, then dip each blossom in the beaten egg, and dredge in the flour until lightly coated. Put the blossom directly into the hot oil in the pan, and do the same with a couple more blossoms (they shouldn't touch while cooking or they'll stick together). Turn the blossoms after 1 or 2 minutes, or when golden on the underside, and let them cook and brown on the other side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels (to catch the extra oil) and egg, flour, and fry a few more blossoms. Continue until all the blossoms have been cooked.

The amounts of egg and flour depend on the number of blossoms you have to fry. I had about 12, and we used 4 to 5 eggs and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of flour. My mom ate hers with some tomato and garlic hummus and I ate mine with some whole-milk ricotta cheese. The flavor of the blossoms is very mild, but reminiscent of zucchini and slightly bitter, which was delicious with the fried egg and flour coating. I could see how this would be good in a sandwich with a slice of ripe heirloom tomato! I'll have to make this again when my tomato plants start producing ...

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)