Friday, July 31, 2009

The hard way

There is something I want to teach all of you.

Something important; something maybe nobody else will tell you. Maybe they think it's obvious, maybe they think you already know, maybe they think it's so logical as to be unnecessary to articulate. But I am just going to go ahead and say it:

When cooking with male zucchini blossoms, remove the stamens.

But Dianne! -- you are thinking -- isn't it the female flower that has the stamen? Because in that one song in Grease 2, when the biology class is singing about reproduction, doesn't a girl get the line, "Make my stamen go berserk"? Well, yes, she does. But even so: the male flower has a stamen, the female a pistil. And, culinarily speaking, stamens taste awful.

I don't mean just run-of-the-mill awful, like, no thanks, I'd rather not have any more of that. I mean, terrible, like, what else can I eat right away that will be strong enough to get this acute bitterness out of my mouth? What's that, a dried chile? No, not strong enough.

(Remove me!)

I learned this lesson the hard way, friends.

For you see, I have a garden full of male squash blossoms (the females are happily growing the vegetables I'm harvesting every few days). And I had my eye on this dish, which is pasta served in a broth flavored with vegetables and zucchini flowers. So I harvested a bouquet of blossoms last night and started cooking. Everything was going so well: the colors were vibrant and lovely and everything smelled so fresh as it was simmering away. I put a twist of the sauced fettuccine on Husband's plate, scattered it with a pinch of grated Pecorino and handed it to him while he said that it was pretty enough to be served to him in a restaurant. He took a bite and started to say, "Dianne, this is so goo..." but before he articulated the "d" his voice trailed off quietly. I took a bite. Then I promptly picked up his plate, my plate and the skillet full of leftovers and deposited their contents straight into the garbage disposal. I wanted all evidence of that dish gone, ground into oblivion wherever it is that the refuse from the disposal goes.

I gulped down some water. I inhaled a piece of bread. I planned what to do next. Luckily, I had some emergency pesto in the fridge. It wasn't until I had eaten a large serving of fettuccine with garlicky pesto and then several mallows that the stamen bitterness was gone from everywhere but the very back millimeter of my tongue. It didn't go away completely until I brushed my teeth twice and the sun had come up the next day. Even now, writing about it, I can sort of taste it back there, menacing me with all the rage of a promising dinner gone very bad.

I am not exaggerating. People, remove the stamens.


Adapted from Orangette

This dish is very delightful when cooked with stamen-less blossoms. It is fresh and savory, resplendent with the color and vibrancy of the garden at the height of summer.

2 T. olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
Leaves from 10 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)
12 zucchini blossoms, stamens and stems removed, quartered from stem to tip
Kosher salt
6 saffron threads
2 c. chicken broth
1 egg yolk
A pinch of sugar
1/2 lb. fettuccine
Pecorino cheese, finely grated, for garnishing

Place a large pot of salted water on to boil.

(On the left: a flower part you remove [zucchini blossom stamens]. On the right: a flower part you add [saffron, a.k.a crocus stigmas].)

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and parsley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the zucchini blossoms, a pinch or two of salt and the saffron; stir gently to mix.

Add about 3/4 c. of broth and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the rest of the broth a little at a time, taking about 5-8 minutes to add it all. Stir frequently. Allow the sauce to simmer until most of the broth has evaporated away and only a thin film of thickened broth remains in the pan. Remove from the heat.

When the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, place the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk lightly.

When the pasta is almost ready, place the zucchini blossom sauce back over medium heat. Use a measuring spoon to scoop up about 3 T. of the pasta cooking liquid. Whisking constantly, gradually add the cooking liquid to the egg yolk. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the zucchini blossom sauce in the skillet, stirring well. Add a pinch of sugar and stir. Using a spider or tongs, transfer the cooked pasta from its pot into the skillet. Toss with the sauce for about 30 seconds, then serve topped with grated Pecorino.

Serves 2.


Arlene Delloro said...

What a terrible lesson to learn! How can something so beautiful taste so dreadful!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Like rubbing your eyes after cutting a hot pepper, a lesson you only need to learn once in life. Ah, well....

Jeff said...

lol I have learned that lesson the hard way too. Another favorite thing I like to do with squash blossoms is stuff them with cheese and deep fry. Of course everything tastes great deep fried.

Tracie said...

Thanks for the tip! We have some of these in the backyard waiting for a recipe like this...

Dianne said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who learned this the hard way! Jeff -- I love zucchini blossoms stuffed and fried...just amazing. In fact, my back yard blossoms were destined for that application until I came across this pasta dish.

Arlene, you're right: it is surprising that something so beautiful can taste so awful. But really: it was SO awful.

Thanks, guys, for your comments!

high over happy said...

Where are my manners? I meant to thank you for the tip when I was done with my post, but it just slipped by me! I am happy with the way my zucchini flowers turned out, thanks to your funny post :)

Dianne said...

High over happy, you are quite welcome! I am just glad that you didn't have to suffer my bitter fate! Thanks again for the compliments, and for the link!

Court said...

Funny post! I was just internet surfing to try and get the low down on what the heck to do with zucchini blossoms and found your blog. I will definitely keep the no stamen rule in mind as I move forward :-)

Unknown said...

Court, thank you! Glad you stopped by, and glad you enjoyed the post. Happy zucchini blossom eating!