A friend recently reminded me of my several-months-long fixation with quince. I couldn't experiment enough with the exotic fruit. I bought cases and cases and peeled and poached, making jams and pastes and tarts and cakes. And then, I went green and discovered my beloved quince had traveled all the way from Chili. Alas.
Well, I've moved on to squash blossoms. Ever since I learned how to stuff them, batter them and fry them, I've looked forward to the summer growing season, which would bring these delicate flowers to market. In Philadelphia, not every market would carry them, however, and the ones that did, would only bring them every so often. Seeing squash blossoms was always a treat.
Imagine my surprise upon running into this at my Sunday San Clemente farmers' market:
Have you ever scene so many zucchini blossoms in one space at one time? I purchased a half pound for three dollars and set to work. Of course, I battered and fried a few. But I also made something I have been dying to make for years: squash blossom quesadillas. (I even found fresh corn masa at a Mexican market in my town) And with my leftover quesadilla filling, I made a yummy squash-blossom pizza.
Do you know anything about plant sex? Here's a little lesson: Squash flowers are either male or female: male flowers are equipped with a stamen, females with a stigma. Males, more plentiful in number, stand on long, thin stems, while the females, sitting on a small, fuzzy green ball, blossom closer to the vine.
Only when a grain of pollen from the stamen lands on the stigma, will this ball turn into a squash. Pollination occurs when bees or other insects travel from flower to flower, or when the wind blows. Using a brush, humans can fertilize the plant as well by collecting pollen from the stamen and painting it onto the stigma.
But here’s the miracle: Pollination can occur on only one day in a blossom’s entire lifetime. Just before dawn, the flowers uncurl; by midday, they begin to close; and by dusk, they close, precluding pollination forever. Few flowers actually ever bear fruit. I know, I know, home gardeners can't give away enough zucchini during the growing season. I still think it's amazing.
Pictured below are mini zucchini with the female blossom still attached. The Carlsbad farm growing all of these blossoms promises to bring them to the market every weekend all summer long.
As you can see, I'm on a bit of a pizza kick right now as well. Pictured below is the squash-blossom pizza, a male zucchini flower (picked from my garden), and the edge of a pizza topped with thinly shaved rounds of zucchini, grated Pecorino, sliced mozzarella, red pepper flakes and fresh basil, (currently my favorite preparation).
So, incidentally, my male and female zucchini blossoms mated successfully, producing these three zucchini. I cut them from their stems over the weekend, shaved them into long spaghetti-like ribbons with my mandoline, tossed them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Pecorino, and ate them raw. This salad is not dissimilar to the fresh fava bean and Pecorino salad posted last month.
I don't have an accurate recipe yet for the squash blossom filling, but I followed instructions given to me by the Carlsbad farmer selling the blossoms and am pretty happy with the results. You basically just sauté an onion until tender, and then add a chopped tomato and the blossoms, and with the pan covered, cook for about five minutes.