When I finally realized that one of my kabocha squash plants was really a zucchini, I muttered obscenities. There’s nothing wrong with zucchinis, but why bother growing something that friends, neighbors, even complete strangers are all begging to give you? Nobody has ever tried to give me a kabocha squash—which is too bad, because it’s my favorite.
Before I could yank the intruder from my garden, I found myself on the phone with Josh Slotnick of Clark Fork Organics. “Me and Kim went to Scotty’s Table last night,” he said. “We ate our own produce, prepared more beautifully than I ever could have. Beet sorbet, fennel crème sauce on pasta, stuffed zucchini flowers…I could sooner fly than cook like that.”
The idea of stuffed zucchini flowers compelled me to pardon 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 flowers 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. Male flowers have pollen in them, so if you stick your finger in a flower and it comes out yellow, 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.
“I only harvest a flower if it has a bee in it,” says Emily Johnson, who works at Clark Fork Organics. “Then I know the flower has succeeded in putting pollen on the bee. It’s done its job. So I shake out the bee and pick it.”
Young flowers that haven’t opened yet aren’t worthy of stuffing, but they are fabulous deep-fried in canola oil. Mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup beer, one tablespoon melted butter and a dash of salt. Fold in one egg white, beaten stiff. Dredge young flowers in this batter and deep-fry.
Paul Myers, daytime sous-chef at Scotty’s Table, prefers his squash flowers stuffed. “That way you showcase the flower,” he says, “rather than covering it up with batter.” With the blessing of Scotty’s Table owner Scott Gill, Myers agreed to divulge his stuffed zucchini flower recipe.
A true culinary artiste, Myers recently returned to Missoula after cooking alongside some of the country’s best chefs in Seattle, New York and the San Juan Islands. Now he and two partners are preparing to open a restaurant of their own, again with the blessing of Gill, who doesn’t seem too worried about competition. “There is such a thing,” Gill says, “as a healthy level of competition. It raises the bar even higher.”
Here is Paul Myers’ stuffed zucchini flower recipe, which serves four diners three flowers each.
Sauté one finely chopped yellow onion in two tablespoons olive oil. Add four small zucchinis—two yellow, two green—also minced, and sauté with pinches of fresh thyme and lavender, seasoning with salt and pepper. Such a mixture of diced and sautéed veggies is called a brunoise. Allow the brunoise to cool to room temperature.
Allow 1 1/2 cups chevre (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 any plastic bag.)
Carefully reach into each flower and pinch 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 recommends serving 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 places the blossoms, which have been drizzled with olive oil and baked for 3 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with that brunoise you 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 and apologized to the zucchini plant I nearly yanked. It may not be a kabocha squash, but I still love it anyway.