Food & Drink : When life hands you zucchini ...

If you don’t like the veggie, try its flower

I don’t grow zucchini in my garden. I like zucchini, but there’s always a surplus in summertime, and everyone and their neighbor with a garden wants to give them away. Nobody has ever tried to give me a kabocha squash. That’s why I planted a big kobocha patch last spring.

Unfortunately, I recently discovered an intruder in my squash patch. A zucchini! Since zucchini plants look almost identical to winter squash, I didn’t figure this out until I saw the protruding green fruit, at which point I muttered obscenities at the seed company who sold me the seeds.

If you want to fry up your squash blossoms, the best time to pick ’em is in the early morning, before the hot Texas sun turns them into a wilted yellow mess. Watch out: The blossom is a veritable salad bar for hungry bees.

Before I could yank the imposter from my garden, I got a phone call from a farmer friend. He mentioned that he and the wife had gone out to eat the night before at a fancy restaurant. This restaurant buys produce from their farm.

“We paid lots of money to eat our own food,” he said, “prepared more beautifully than I ever could have. Beet sorbet, fennel crème sauce on pasta, stuffed zucchini blossoms I could sooner fly than cook like that.”

Stuffed zucchini blossoms?

I looked out the window at my zucchini plant, which was covered in big, yellow flowers.

Zucchini, along with winter squash, melons and cucumbers, is a member of the cucurbit family, all of whose blossoms are edible. The flowers are best picked early in the morning, when it’s cool, and stored in the fridge. Most people harvest the male flowers and leave the female flowers on the plant. Male flowers have pollen in them, so if you stick your finger in a flower and it comes out yellow, you know it’s a male. Female flowers, which will often already have a little squash in them, should be left alone — unless you prefer the flower to the fruit.

Young flowers that haven’t opened yet aren’t worthy of stuffing, but they are fabulous deep-fried. Here is a simple beer-batter recipe for zucchini or squash blossoms.

Mix 1/2 cup white flour, 1/2 cup beer, one tablespoon melted butter and a dash of salt. Fold in one egg white, beaten stiff. Dredge young zucchini or squash blossoms in this batter and deep-fry in canola oil until golden brown.

“You could deep-fry cardboard and it would taste good,” says my farmer friend. “Stuffed is better — you can taste the subtle flavor of the blossom.”

I tracked down the chef who made the stuffed blossoms that had so impressed my friend. His name is Paul Myers, and he has cooked alongside some of the finest chefs in the nation — including Tom Douglas of Dahlia Lounge in Seattle, and Wylie Dufresene of WD50 in New York. Myers now cooks for Scotty’s Table in Missoula, Montana.

Female flowers, which will often already have a little squash in them, should be left alone — unless you prefer the flower to the fruit.

I asked him about deep-fried zucchini blossoms.

“They taste good, of course,” he said. “but the product is concealed inside the breading. I like a presentation that showcases the product.”

Still, he agrees that young blossoms, which haven’t yet opened, are ideal for frying. He recommends serving fried blossoms with aioli (garlic mayonnaise).

And here is Chef Paul Myers’ stuffed-zucchini-flower recipe, which serves four diners three flowers each.

Sauté one minced yellow onion in two tablespoons olive oil. Mince four eight-inch zucchinis — two yellow, two green — and sauté with pinches of fresh thyme and lavender, seasoning with salt and pepper. Such a mixture of minced and sautéed veggies is called a brunoise. Kill the heat while the brunoise is still crisp and colorful, and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Allow 3/4 cups chèvre (goat cheese) and 1/4 cup blue cheese to warm to room temperature. Combine them with a whisk or rubber spatula, pouring in a splash of heavy cream to help smooth the texture.

Reserve a cup of the brunoise for later, and fold the rest into the cheese mixture to make your stuffing. Load the stuffing into a pastry bag. (You can rig up your own pastry bag by tearing the corner off of a plastic bag.)

Carefully reach into each flower and break off the stamen (male flower) or fruit (female flower). Then squeeze the stuffing from the pastry bag into each blossom. After the blossom is stuffed, grab the tips of the flower petals with one hand, and with your other hand twist the base of the flower. “It’s just like twisting up a hand-rolled cigarette,” Myers explains.

He serves the stuffed flowers with the following curry sauce:

Sauté one chopped yellow onion until translucent. Add two tablespoons of Patak-brand red curry paste. Stir in the juice of one lime. Reduce the liquid a bit, then remove from heat, cool slightly and puree in a blender. Myers paints a broad stroke of this curry sauce on the plate, upon which he arranges the blossoms, which have been drizzled with olive oil and baked for 2 minutes at 350 degrees. He serves with a scoop of that brunoise, previously set aside, and a salad of baby greens dressed with a puree of blanched pistachios, mint leaves and olive oil.

Wow. After that meal I went out and apologized to the zucchini plant I nearly yanked. It may not be a kabocha squash, but I love it anyway.