Shopping the Farmers Market: Why Blog

After years of frequenting the farmers markets in NYC, but only buying a few supplemental ingredients here or there, I decided to be experimental and work dishes around what is in season or looks particularly mouthwatering at the market that day. Green seems to be the buzz word these days from NYC to the White House, and the eat local movement is in full swing. My attempt here is to buy as many ingredients as possible from a the farmers market, and then occasionally supplement with locally produced ingredients from chain markets around the city. Most of the recipes I post (except for the baking recipes) are either things I created myself, or variations on recipes I've found elsewhere. I hope that you take the recipes and shopping tips here and they inspire you to do your own local cooking.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Edible Flowers Roman Style

I think that edible flowers are another polarizing food. Some people get excited when they see brightly colored delicate petals sitting atop their favorite salad, others think it's a useless gimmick. I'll have to admit that I enjoy a pansy or two with my food on occasion, I'm drawn to the novelty of it all, but I have never really seen flowers as a main course, or even really as an appetizer...

That is until I discovered the squash blossom. A few years ago, my New Jersey ex used to take me to a Roman-style pizza place on the Lower East Side called Pala. While there, I noticed a slightly fried appetizer in the shape of a large flower. He told me they were a Roman treat called squash blossoms. Squash blossoms (sometimes called zucchini blossoms) are exactly what they sound like, the flowers that grow with the squash. Usually a light orange color with a green stem, the squash blossom is often fried and served with sea salt.

All summer I've been staring at them in their neat plastic packages at the market, but hadn't attempted to cook with them. I don't eat fried foods very often, and have therefore, never really fried anything myself, but the draw of the silken flowers was too strong. I bought a $5 container of about 20 at the Union Square farmers market, and rushed home to make them right away.

Before I get to the recipe I would just like to mention that the Union Square market has a wonderful selection of non-edible flowers as well. If you're looking for a way to brighten up your dining table, try perusing the selection brought in from farms in New Jersey and upstate New York.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
One solitary box of squash blossoms

At a supermarket:
1 lemon

Supplementary ingredients I had at home:
Self rising flour
Sea Salt flakes
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Baking powder

Recipe: Fried Squash Blossoms

10-15 squash blossoms
3/4 of a cup of ice water
2/3 of a cup of self-rising flour
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 egg
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 lemon cut into wedges
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

First make the batter. Sift the flour and the baking powder together in a bowl. Beat the egg in a separate bowl. Then add the egg and the olive oil. Mix until it's just blended together. Next take the ice water and drizzle it in until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and the garlic powder.

Once the batter is made, pour enough olive oil in a wide frying pan to coat the bottom in a thin layer. Turn to high heat and let the oil get very hot. Once the oil is hot enough, dunk a squash blossom in the batter, then place in the frying pan. Be careful when you do this. The oil will be very hot, and when I first did it, the oil splashed out of the pan and burned my finger. Let my injury be a warning to you!

You will probably have to fry these in batches. I did two at a time since the blossoms I got were quite large, and my pan wasn't that big. Depending on what kind of pan you use, if the blossom is not fully submerged, flip it with tongs after about a minute and a half.

I imagine that in a restaurant they would fry them in a wok or a deep fryer which would help them keep their rounded flower shape, but since I fried them in a pan they took on a rather flattened pancake shape. If you stuff them, like I discuss below, they might retain their shape better.

Anyway, back to the recipe. Fry them on the other side for another minute, then remove them with the tongs and place them on paper towels to soak up the oil. Once they are cool enough to touch (a minute or two) sprinkle them with sea salt flakes and place them on a serving plate. Cut the lemon into wedges and squeeze over the fried blossoms.

To me the batter tasted like a lightly fried pancake. The real draw of the dish is the silky texture of the petals mixed with the salty crunchiness of the fried batter. The tips of the petals didn't have a strong taste, but the base had a distinct flower taste that I rather liked. It was unique, but also very mild.

This recipe was a very basic one for frying the blossoms, but feel free to get more creative and stuff the blossoms before you fry them. A goat cheese mixture with heavy cream and either chive or dill might be a bright contrast to the doughiness of the batter. Just be sure to tie up the ends of the blossoms before you dip them in the batter so the stuffing doesn't come out during frying.

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