When all else is lost, you can eat the flowers


When it comes to battling the squash vine borers, you win a few and you lose a few. This year, the borers won big. They stomped me.

If these critters get into your garden, they live up to their name. The larvae bore their way into the vines of your squash and zucchini plants and suck out the juice of the plants faster than barflies toss down margaritas at happy hour.

Every year, I match wits with squash vine borers. I play hide-and-seek by planting the vines in different spots in the garden. I engage in chemical warfare, dusting the plants with carbaryl. I also go in for a little hand-to-hand combat, seeking out and squashing any low-life vine-suckers that cross my path.

I did not, however, employ the defense of the seven veils, and that proved to be my undoing. The defense of the seven veils involves covering the plants with a gauzy cloth. The idea is that sunlight and rain can penetrate the veils, but not the borers. It appears to work. The other day when I visited the community garden where I have a plot, it was apparent that the vines that had been covered with the seven veils were thriving, and my naked vine was hurting.

A few days earlier, the white patty pan squash vine was looking fat and juicy. But now it was shriveled and deflated. The vines and leaves drooped. It looked like an elephant had tromped it.

I harvested two scallop-shaped squash, then looked again at the plant. There were about a dozen flowers in bloom on the plant. If the plant were functioning normally, these flowers would, thanks to the miracle of nature, grow up and become more scallop-shaped squash. But thanks to the appetites of the voracious borers, these flowers would never reach adulthood. That gave me an idea. I would join the ranks of the blossom eaters. I would harvest the flowers.

So I plucked about eight squash blossoms from the dying plant. I took the blossoms home, stuffed them with ricotta and Parmesan cheese and fried them in olive oil.

The squash vine borers might have won the war this year, but I was able to get one savory dish out of the struggle.

Stuffed Blossoms

Serves 4

8 good size zucchini or squash flowers, pistils removed

1 cup fresh ricotta

1 large egg

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano- Reggiano

1 small clove garlic, green germ removed, minced

pinch of fresh nutmeg

fine sea salt

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1 cup carbonated water

mild olive oil for frying

Gently wipe blossoms clean. Whisk ricotta, egg, Parmigiano, garlic, nutmeg, and pinch of salt in a medium bowl.

Fit a pastry bag with a 1/4 -inch round tip. Spoon the filling into the bag then gently pipe stuffing into the flowers. Each should have 2 tablespoons of filling.

Place the flour in a large bowl and whisk in carbonated water.

Cover bottom of deep saucepan with an inch or two of oil. Heat to 375 degrees, testing heat by dropping a teaspoon of batter. It should float quickly to surface and turn golden brown.

Dip flowers into batter, let excess drip off then, using a slotted spoon, lower gently into oil and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels, dust lightly with salt and serve.

From "Italian Farmhouse Cookbook" by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Workman, 2000)

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