Monday, August 30, 2010


Two dishes finally make their long overdue appearance in our house…

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Certain foods just say “summer!” You wait all year for those ripe tomatoes, the sweet cantaloupe, and those juicy berries to hit the produce bins. But what about squash blossoms? Squash what??

I’ve always wanted to try squash blossoms. They just look fun. Did I have any idea what I was going to do with them once I got them home? Nope.

Watching an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef the other day, I saw Anne Burrell use squash blossoms. I admit that I completely stole her idea for the batter here, but I also learned that the stamen (on male blossoms) or pistil (on females) needs to be removed from the middle of the flower. Who knew?

You could stuff these little delights with almost anything. Actually, you don’t even need to stuff them. Sometimes they are just used as garnish, sometimes as the main ingredient in a soup. But stuff them I did.

I used a cheese base for my filling: some mascarpone, some grated parm, a little basil, a few passes of lemon on the zester, salt and pepper, and of course, some chopped cooked bacon. Finally, on the fifth blog post, some bacon!!!

Now I realize that not everybody eats bacon (although I really can’t imagine a life without it). Still, I believe that this dish would be just as good without it. Andy, on the other hand, looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language when I mentioned omitting it. With or without bacon, the filling will be very tasty. If you aren’t using bacon, double check your seasonings…you may need a little extra salt.

(A word about salt: food truly does need to be salted heartily. My mom would have you believe otherwise. Salt is not bad. Salt is good. It brings out flavors that you would otherwise not taste. Salt in desserts? Absolutely. It brings out the sweetness. Season a dish from beginning to end. Taste, taste, taste. Don’t just salt dishes when you’re ready to pull them off the stove. All you will taste is salt. Then Mom will be right, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?)

But we’re talking about squash blossoms here. Once you make your filling and have removed the stamen from the flower, you’re ready to fill. This is a very delicate process. Get a spoonful of filling ready in a log-like shape. Very carefully open the bloom and start stuffing the filling in from the bottom of the log up to the “petals”. The flower will close up and stick around the filling. Once all the blossoms are stuffed, put them back in the refrigerator to chill.

The batter for this dish, as I mentioned, was stolen from Anne Burrell. Mix some flour and white wine. That’s it. She says on her show that it sounds really weird, and it does. But it works. It creates an incredibly light batter for these very dainty blooms. Stir the flour and wine together and coat each squash blossom. You’re ready to fry.

Use vegetable or canola oil so the blossoms don’t take on any unwanted flavors. The oil needs to be hot (at least 350-360) for frying, otherwise the squash blossoms will just absorb the oil. Once the oil is hot, lay each blossom in the pan and fry until crisp and lightly browned. Flip over and crisp the other side. Once done, remove to a paper towel until ready to serve.

I treated this unusual dish as an appetizer, served all by themselves, but as I mentioned earlier, you could also place them on top of a salad on main dish as an unexpected garnish.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bit into these. It turns out that the flower actually tastes just like zucchini or squash, but in a much more delicate way. Overall, the blossom is a great vehicle for any scrumptious filling you could dream up.

Pear-Pluot Crisp

I am ecstatic when I finally see pluots at the farmer’s markets. They are a hybrid of a plum and an apricot, leaning much more towards the plum family, and are oh-so-tasty. There are many varieties to choose from, and I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t like.

Me and pears, on the other hand, don’t have that kind of relationship. I’m just not their biggest fan. Since I had some small homegrown pears (I think they’re Bartlett, but I’m no expert) sitting in the fruit basket that had finally softened up, I figured I’d give them a try. They did not disappoint.

A light dessert was in order after our squash blossom appetizer, another yummy tomato salad, and the best barbecued ribs ever. A fruit crisp sounded like the way to go.

For the filling, peel and slice two pears and slice one pluot. (The pluot skin produces amazing color when baked, so leave it on.) Toss the fruit with some sugar, some Amaretto, and a tablespoon of cornstarch to help thicken when it’s baked. I made individual crisps in ramekins, but you could also just make one bigger crisp. 

To make the topping, put some brown sugar, flour, almonds, cubed butter, and a pinch of salt in the food processor and pulse until it’s a crumbly mixture. You don’t want a wet mixture here…too much butter will ensure a not-so-crispy crisp. I learned that the hard way. Make enough to completely cover the fruit in a fairly thick layer.

Put the crisps on a baking sheet (they will bubble over) and bake them at 350 for about 20-30 minutes, until the tops are crisp and browned.

These can be served as is, but I rarely pass up an opportunity for freshly whipped cream, so I topped them with a (big) dollop of Amaretto whipped cream (to continue my almond theme). (You can make any flavor whipped cream you want by adding in a little splash of an extract or liqueur after the cream is starting to stiffen.)

As I said, I definitely put too much butter in the topping, which produced a much softer crisp than I was going for. The flavor, however, did not suffer one bit. Tart and sweet with a hint of almond, this is one easy dessert that I will be making again.

And I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The pears were the star of this show. They were sweet and had just the right texture without being one bit mealy. Perhaps I will have to visit them more often. I’ve got two more sitting in the fruit basket…

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