How to Cook with Squash Blossoms
As an urban farmer, one of the most frequent questions I get in summer is about when and how to harvest squash blossoms. These brilliant tangerine-colored flowers are alluring, and farmers markets often sell them at a premium price. They can be cooked in broths, sauteed, or more commonly stuffed and dipped in light batters and fried. Everyone loves fried squash blossoms!
What is a Squash Blossom?
Summer squash plants (all members of the Cucurbitaceae family, actually — cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, etc) send out both male and female squash blossoms. Through pollination, the squash fruits are created - male blossoms lend their pollen to the female blossoms, and those female blossoms turn into the fruit of the plant. A plant will create more male blossoms than are necessary for pollination, and some of these may be harvested and eaten. (If you over-harvest the male blossoms, you will not have any fruit to harvest!)
How to Harvest Blossoms
Identifying male versus female blossoms is reasonably simple. Male flowers have stamens—a long, slender "stalk" that runs up the center of the bloom and is tipped with a thick carpet of pollen. Male blossoms grow on long, thin stems from the base of the squash plant—typically about six or seven inches in length.
By contrast, female blossoms sit low to the plant and do not have a stamen. To harvest, cut the male blossoms at the base of their stems, as close to the plant as possible. You can use the stem in your cooking or trim it down to a few inches. (You may also harvest female blossoms if you are trying to reduce the fruit of the plant or it's early in the season and you wish for the plant to fully establish itself before fruiting.)
Storing Squash Blossoms
Use harvested squash blossoms right away, as they wilt quickly. If you need to store them for a short time, line a storage container with a linen cloth or paper towel and mist it until just damp. Lay out the flowers in single layers, leaving space between the blossoms, and stack them between layers of moistened towel. Store in the fridge for up to two days.
Cooking with Squash Blossoms
To prepare squash blossoms for cooking, I like to remove the stamen, particularly if the anther is thick, as it can taste quite bitter. (The anther is the tip of the stamen and contains the pollen.) To do this, use a small paring knife and delicately open the blossom to remove the stamen at its base or as close to the base as possible. Cook squash blossoms by dipping them into a light egg batter and frying, briefly, in a shallow pool of oil. Make sure the oil is hot, as they cook quickly and you need only let the batter brown before serving. For more crunch, roll them in bread crumbs (after dipping them into the batter) before frying.
Of course, these blossoms can be stuffed before frying. Gently pry open the bloom and spoon or pipe in ricotta or goat cheese that has been spiked with herbs, Parmesan. and lemon zest.
You can also chop squash blossoms and add them to soups or pasta dishes, adding them to the bowl just before serving. They add both flavor and color to a simple cheese quesadilla. Heat a tortilla in a dry pan; when both sides are golden, add cheese and several squash blossoms to one side and fold in half, pressing the sides together. The cheese will melt and the blossoms will steam. Delicious!