Every other week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Your dinner could use a little flower power.
The term "squash blossoms" generally refers to zucchini blossoms, though almost every member of the squash genus (Cucurbita) produces edible flowers. Those flowers can be either male or female and if you're buying them at the farmers market, telling the different between them is simple: Pick up a punnet of blossoms and you’re getting male blossoms; buy baby summer squashes with blossoms at the end of them and you’re getting female blossoms.
The gender distinction doesn’t matter much if you’re buying your blossoms—they can, of course, be used in exactly the same ways. And both the female and male reproductive parts inside the blossoms are edible, as is the calyx, the green leaf-like base (1, pictured below) —though some people prefer to remove all non-petal parts due to their crunch factor.
On the other hand, if you’re harvesting blossoms yourself, it's important to be able to distinguish between male and female flowers. You’ll only want to harvest male flowers, as the female flowers are what develop into squash. Just don’t pick all of the male flowers; you’ll need to leave some for pollination purposes. If high school botany class seems like a distant memory, Food52er sfmiller helps you differentiate between the flowers—you won't even need to identify stamens and pistils. She explains: “Female blossoms have a fleshy ovary behind the flower, where it attaches to the vine; it becomes a squash if the flower is pollinated. Male blossoms attach directly to the vine and have a more hairy or downy appearance.”
More: Former Food52 Editor Nozlee Samadzadeh wrote a missive on plant reproduction that's not to be missed.
Whether purchased from the market or picked from your garden (which is best done first thing in the morning), you’ll want to use your squash blossoms quickly—ideally the same day. Like other edible flowers, squash blossoms have a very short shelf life.
To store them, Elizabeth Schneider recommends spreading them out on a towel-lined baking sheet, and then covering them with plastic wrap. She also suggests cleaning them by dunking them in a bowl of water a few times or holding them under the faucet and letting a gentle stream of water run into each blossom. I will confess that if I don’t see any bugs in the blossoms, I don’t always go to the trouble of washing them.
- Helen's All Night Diner recommends squash blossom soup, saying, “I made one a couple of years ago that had onions, poblano chiles, and some cream, along with the shredded squash blossoms. It was fantastic.”
- Mrslarkin seconds the soup suggestion and adds, “Slice blossoms into ribbons and use with other veggies as you would to make a minestrone or vegetable soup.”
- Food52 photographer James Ransom says, “You can slice them and add them to a frittata or omelet. Or top a risotto with sliced blossoms (they should wilt under the heat of the rice). I've been thinking about salt-and-sugar curing them, like chefs do with hardier greens, but I don't have a recipe to share yet.”
- Lucy's Mom also likes squash blossoms with eggs: “My Italian grandfather taught me to scramble them with eggs and some fresh herbs—delicious!”
- Greg027 suggests making squash flower tacos by sautéing chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, adding the blossoms in at the end, and then serving the mixture with avocado, sea salt, and hot sauce.
- Eatatvino and amysarah use them in quesadillas.
- While in France, FoodSlinger enjoyed squash blossoms in a salad with cold boiled potatoes, onion, Niçoise dressing, and white anchovies.
- Leaf & Grain reminds us that it’s possible to turn almost anything into pesto—squash blossoms are no exception.
- Healthierkitchen suggests using them as a pizza topping.
- Cheekoli likes to slice squash blossoms and add them raw to green salads.
If you decide to take one of the most popular routes—to stuff the squash blossoms with cheese before baking or frying them—it's still possible to get creative:
- Clintonhillbilly stuffs blossoms with a mixture of raisins, fresh mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes, and then roasts them and drizzles them with walnut oil.
- Cookinginvictoria says, “I love to stuff squash blossoms with finely chopped herbs and goat cheese or ricotta or even Parmesan cheese. Then I dip the blossoms into a thin batter (I make mine with flour and some seltzer water), and deep-fry them. Sprinkle with salt and eat—heaven!”
- ChefJune suggests deep-frying blossoms that have been stuffed with a lavender and honey goat cheese blend.
- QueenSashy says, “I like to mix ricotta, Parmesan, one egg, some herbs (e.g. basil or thyme), salt, and pepper, stuff the little guys, drizzle with olive oil, and put under a broiler for about 10 minutes. Serve with nice chunky tomato sauce.”
- Lastnightsdinner reminds us that it isn’t necessary to stick with cheese. She was intrigued by Eric Ripert's recipe for squash blossoms stuffed with a crabmeat mixture and steamed.
Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use squash blossoms?
Photos by James Ransom