You’d think I’d have learned my lesson about farmer’s market-darling vegetables with the ramps. But no; like a sucker, I spent the better part of my evening fussing over squash blossoms.
(Eventually, I called it a night and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)
I’m on vacation this week. I guess you could call it a “staycation,” except that that particular portmanteau makes me want to throw hot milk into a kitten’s eyes.
Vacations that don’t involve travel usually involve two things for me: (1) a random act of body modification and (2) needlessly ambitious cooking projects, undertaken despite the fact that all I really want to do is sit on the sofa with a baguette, a hunk of good cheese and a never-ending flow of French 75s while watching the Tour de France. (Phil Liggett, you complete me.*)
I already have all the tattoos and piercings I might want, so this time I made due with merely butchering my hair. The theory was a sound one, but my stylist got a little too far into the zone with the clippers and razor, so possibly I now look a little…severe. Yeah, let’s go with “severe,” which, while not optimal, is still warmer and fuzzier than the reality of “contemporary neo-Nazi” or “tragic Flowbee victim.”
*Color commentary quote of the day: “If we were to stop the race right now – which we WILL NOT do – this rider would be the new leader.” I like that he thinks 40 years of Tour commentary have given him the power to change the life of the race at will, and that he’s doing us a favor by NOT exercising it.
But that was yesterday. Today rolled out before me a day completely free of any set plans other than trying to practice my best non-threatening faces in the bathroom mirror so I don’t frighten my new buildingmates in the elevator. So: cooking.
Brian has been talking a lot about fried squash blossoms lately, so I thought I’d give them a whirl. Usually, they’re stuffed with ricotta before frying, but as Jersey City is apparently now located on the surface of the sun, the idea of a fried cheese dinner was too much for me. (At this point, anything other than absorbing nutrients from the air and drinking vats of ice-cold tea is too much for me.) Lighter and more appealing: a stuffing of crab and fresh sweet corn, with some orange bell pepper and chives thrown in for good measure.
Luckily, I’d read a few recipes for the cheese-stuffed variety before I started so I knew that I’d have to emasculate the blossoms before stuffing them (I had male blossoms).
I don’t want to get too blue here, but this process requires one to get a little more intimate with squash blossoms than I was prepared or had any desire for. Their little penii are, of course, way at the bottom of the blossom, so you’ve gotta get in there. But you don’t want to rip the petals, so you must approach with caution. And when you’ve got a finger down in there, the damp, filmy petals kinda suck at your finger, and… I’m sorry, it’s too much. I’m overcome. Hey, squash blossoms: in America, dinner and a movie is customary first.
(Also: Yes, I took this photo because I am puerile.)
Eventually, I managed to pull myself together like the smart, capable, professional thirty-something I am and ripped out the flower dongles with clinical detachment and minimal giggling. I filled the blooms with crab filling as best I could, twisting the ends of the petals shut to keep everything together. Note to self: there is a reason people stuff these with soft cheese; it’s much easier to stick the tip of a pastry bag than a spoonful of crabmeat into a long, thin flower. Lesson learned.
I stuck them into the fridge to chill for a few minutes while I contemplated a sauce. A few roasted yellow peppers, fresh mango, coconut milk, lime juice, a teaspoon of chile-garlic paste and a blender later, full condimenthood was achieved. For a little extra zing, I channeled my inner Bobby Flay by whipping up some cilantro oil, then berating a sous chef and one-upping a bunch of local small business owners for no good reason.
The stuffed blossoms I dipped in egg and flour, then pan-fried in olive oil for a few minutes.
The finished plate is pretty, ain’t it? Too bad I didn’t really like it. As it turns out, I don’t like squash blossoms. I find their texture unappealing, and if I wanted zucchini flavor – which I rarely do – I would just buy a damn zucchini, which would save me money AND sexual harassment charges. The sauce and crab filling were delightful; fresh and light, with a mix of textures and a good balance of sweetness, heat, acid and richness. So I scraped out the stuffing and gave the empty blossoms to Brian, because I am eight years old.
(Brian, who’s a bigger zuke fan than me and does not share my squeamishness about textures, really enjoyed this and ate seven blossoms.)
To sum up:
- Unfortunate haircut.
- Unsatisfying dinner.
- No one bringing me bottomless French 75s.
This vacation had better GET ITS SHIT TOGETHER in a hurry.
Crab-Stuffed Squash Blossoms
16 squash blossoms
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 ear fresh sweet corn
1 orange bell pepper
1/3 c. diced chives
1/2 lb. lump crabmeat
1 + 2 large eggs
1 tbsp. mayo
3 tbsp. panko breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1 c. AP flour
olive oil for frying
Emasculate your squash blossoms. While you’re poking around in there, check for bugs that may be along for the ride.
Prepare the filling: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. While it’s melting, cut the kernels off the corn cob and dice the bell pepper. Toss the corn and pepper into the skillet, add a pinch of salt and saute until just tender, 2-3 minutes. Remove to a mixing bowl.
Add the chives and crab to the veg and fold to combine – you don’t want to break up the crab too much. Make a little well in the center of the mix and add one egg and the mayo. Beat them together, then fold into the crab. Sprinkle over the panko and white pepper, and fold that in. If you’re not scared of raw egg, taste it and check for seasoning.
Stuff ’em: Using your fingers or a little spoon, gently hold the blossom petals open and spoon a tablespoon or two of filling into each flower. Twist the ends of the petals together to keep everything inside where it belongs.
Fry ’em up: In a heavy, high-sided skillet, heat a quarter-inch of olive oil to 350. While it heats, set up a dredging station: beat the remaining 2 eggs together in one bowl, and put the flour in another.
Dip each blossom into the egg, let the extra drip off, then run it through the flour and add it to the hot oil. Fry for about 2 minutes per side, until golden. Serve hot.
Yellow Pepper-Mango Coulis
2 yellow bell peppers
1/2 c. peeled & diced mango
1/2 c. coconut milk
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 -2 tsp. Thai chile-garlic paste (depending on how much you like heat)
Roast the peppers as per your favorite method: on the grill, directly over a gas burner on the stove, under the broiler. When well blackened on all sides, put ’em in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let them sit and steam for 10 minutes, which will make them easier to peel. Peel off the charred skin, remove the stem and seeds and roughly chop.
Put the roasted pepper, mango, coconut, lime and paste into a blender and puree; if it’s too thick, add a little water. Add salt a pinch at a time, tasting as you go. Run the puree through a sieve to excise any lumps.
You’re done! Serve at room temp. Would be great with crab cakes, shrimp, and all kinds of firm, white-fleshed fish.