Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fried Pumpkin Blossoms

My Sicilian grandmother always used to make a big deal about getting a hold of fresh squash blossoms (usually Zucchini), breading and frying them. Often they would be stuffed with something special such as cream cheese as well, but they were an interesting snack even without the stuffing. This story starts with the area of my yeard where I intended to put up a garden this season. Early on, a stray plant that looked vaguely squash-like sprouted out of nowhere, so I let it grow just to see what it would become. A few weeks later, my vegetable garden was out of the question- the mystery plant was a pumpkin plant, and it took over basically my entire proposed garden area. The good news is that the plant is now so big, I can pick the flowers at will without stopping the plant from producing plenty of pumpkins. I've never fried pumpkin blossoms before, but the idea works just as well for just about any squash or gourd flowers.

I went plain with mine. I didn't have any cream cheese, and I decided that a handful of squash blossoms would be a nice side dish to a light lunch. Just to make sure I didn't impede the production of pumpkins, I made sure to only grab "male" flowers- the female flowers will have a baby pumpkin/squash/whatever forming just below the bud- which makes them a great snack, but means you're denying yourself a bigger gourd later. The flowers, male or female, are always a yellow/orange color, and are slightly leathery to the touch, and much more sturdy than they look.

To cook them up is very simple. Take one egg, and scamble it- use a little cold water to thin it out a little, and set aside. Take another bowl containing bradcrumbs, season the crumb with a little salt, pepper, and parsley. Dip the blossoms in the egg, then coat with the breadcrumb. If you have cream cheese (or even marscarpone!) and want a richer treat, open up the flowers and add a dab or two of the cheese before dunking them in your egg and breading. Simply shallow fry them in a pan with a little olive oil. Yes, many people will tell you NOT to fry in olive oil- it's OK, you can do it- just pay attention to how hot you let the oil get, make sure to back the heat off just enough to keep the oil from reaching a smoking point. You'll get the hang of it quickly. As long as you keep the temperature controlled, the oil will retain it's great flavor and not turn acrid.

Let them fry for a few minutes on each side until they become golden brown. There is no exact timing, you just have to keep your eye on them. When done, let them drain on a paper towel, and hit them with another pinch of salt while they are still hot. They have a crunch on the outside, and an interesting, almost leathery texture inside. They taste floral, with a subtle hint of the pumpkin/squash that the plant will eventually produce. Simple, and different. It's a favorite of old-school European immigrants, like my grandparents, and makes a nice side dish. It will give the satisfaction of "something fried" while still staying light and (mostly) healthy.

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