Guests on our summer cycling and walking tours are enamored when squash blossoms appear on the table – whether stuffed with cheese, topping a pizza, or flavoring a frittata the presentation is always lovely. These blossoms are easily found in both restaurants as well as local markets in Italy, where they have graced tables since at least the 1500s, but have yet to find their place here in the US.
Squash blossoms are the edible flowers of Cucurbita species of squash, the species that produces squashes and pumpkins including acorn, cocozelle, crookneck, straight-neck, and zucchini. They are highly perishable, and so are rarely stocked in supermarkets here in the US. Both male and female squash blossoms can be used. In Italy, male blossoms are harvested early in the season, as picking only male flowers (leaving some for pollination), leaves the female flowers to produce squash. The zucchini squash themselves are harvested later in the season, when they are only 5 inches or so long, and are often sold with the female blossoms still attached.
Fried squash blossoms are coated in a light batter and deep fried. Regional variations include frying simply the flowers, or the flowers stuffed with herbed ricotta cheese in Tuscany, mozzarella in Campania, a bit of anchovy in Rome. For those looking for an even more effortless and lighter version, they can be simply brushed with extra virgin olive oil and grilled or baked. Here’s a recipe I’ve used in several cooking classes for our groups in Italy.
Baked Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Herb Ricotta
Makes 4 servings
¾ cup sheep’s milk ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons mixed finely chopped fresh herbs; mint, cilantro, basil, garlic chives
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
16 squash blossoms
Mix the cheese in a bowl with the herbs and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pointy green needle-like things at the base of the flower. Carefully pry apart the petals of each blossom. Remove the stamen. Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture inside each blossom and gently twist the tips of the blossoms shut. Brush the blossoms with oil and season the outside with salt and pepper.
Place the blossoms over medium heat on the grill and cook on each side for 1 minute. Or, place on a sheet pan and roast in an oven for 8 minutes, until the center is soft.
Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon.