I was frying flowers. That's right, flowers, blossoms of summer squash, stuffed with fontina cheese and garlic, were crackling in the frying pan.
As the stuffed flowers moved around in the hot oil, I thought they looked like little footballs. Both the frying flowers and flying footballs were brown and wobbly. My imagery was probably influenced by the fact that, like many American males, I have been spending a lot of time lately either tossing a football around or watching other guys toss it.
For example, just before I fried the flowers, I had spent part of the afternoon watching one of my kids play in a football game between two middle schools, a real game as the kids would say, one with uniforms and referees. On the way home from the game, the sweat-soaked football player helped me pick the blossoms from the squash plants in our community garden plot. When we arrived home, my other son wanted to play catch with the football in the alley. So I played a little football and then I fried a few flowers.
I did it because I had a surplus of summer squash blossoms. Long yellow squash, which is what unpicked squash blossoms become when they grow up, had been piling up on our kitchen counter, like a yellow wall, substantial and unmoving. One way to slow down the influx, was, I figured, to nip the squash blossoms in the bud.
I also did it because I was curious. I had read about people eating fried blossoms, and I wanted to try it. I guess you could say I was curious yellow.
I wanted to try it in the summer, the height of the squash season, but I didn't have the courage. I struggled with the question, "Do real men eat flowers?" Basically I came up with the answer that real men eat anything that is deep-fried.
Besides, I was running out of time to try. I knew that pretty soon the production from the garden would wind down, even from the notoriously prolific squash. So after my son's football game, I stopped by the garden, scared off the rabbits, and grabbed a handful of blossoms. These plants had not been sprayed with any chemicals. The bugs, the rabbits and the mice seem to like them that way.
I searched cookbooks for a fried flower recipe. I found one in the paperback version of Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook"(Random House, 1995, $16). Ms. Waters is a big fan of edible flowers.
A few years ago, after making several smart-aleck remarks about flowers as food, I finally visited her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif. Once I tasted the nasturtiums, I changed my tune. The bugs were right. Flowers, that are free of pesticides can taste pretty good.
The flower-stuffing maneuver did require some talent. So as I pushed cheese and garlic into each blossom, I told myself I was learning a new skill.
Once a blossom was stuffed, I twisted its ends and dropped it in a wash made of eggs and milk. Next I rolled it in cornmeal, and dropped it in bubbling olive oil.
I cooked the blossoms for about three minutes, turning them with a pair of tongs. They cooled off on paper towels and I 'D sprinkled them with salt and pepper.
I tried two different stuffings for the blossoms. One was made of garlic, parsley and cheese. Another was made of pesto sauce and cheese. I preferred the pesto sauce version, it had more pizazz.
Both versions were pretty good. They had a flavor that was a pleasant cross of french fries and raw vegetables. And frying them was a hoot.
Once the squash in the garden are kaput, I doubt that I will be able to get my hands on any blossoms in the grocery store. They are not an everyday item. But as long as the squash keeps budding, I will keep frying flowers.
They make good hors d'oeuvres. Even football players eat them. This recipe is from Ms. Waters' "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook":
Fried squash blossoms
1/4 cup Italian parsely leaves and 12 sprigs Italian parsley
4 to 5 cloves garlic
12 fresh open squash blossoms
1/2 pound fontina cheese
1/4 cup milk
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup black olives
Mince 1/4 cup Italian parsley with garlic. Open individual blossoms wide enough to insert small piece of cheese. Add a pinch of the garlic and parsley mixture and gently twist ends of blossom together.
Beat eggs with milk. Dip each blossom into this mixture, then roll quickly and evenly in cornmeal. Refrigerate for a few minutes.
Deep fry blossoms in skillet, half full of oil of your choice, that is 350 to 400 degrees for about three minutes or until they brown and cheese is melted. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately, garnished with lots of Italian parsley and black olives.