Posts Tagged ‘summer’

Passing Pleasures: Squash Blossoms


There are a lot of edible flowers, but no flower expresses the joy of summer as well as the resplendent squash blossom. The sheer exuberance of them in the garden on a July morning lifts the heart of anyone who sees them, and they are a delicious edible. They’re fragile, and your best chance of getting good ones is to grow them yourself. I like the flowers of winter squash and pumpkins best for eating. They are huge gold trumpets six or seven inches long. You can use the smaller flowers of zucchinis, but you’ll need almost twice as many. There are lots of ways to cook them, but my favorite method is to stuff them with a delicate ricotta and basil filling.
I pick only the male flowers, making sure to leave at least one male blossom in the squash patch every day for pollination purposes. You can also use the female flowers, which have embryonic little squash between the stem and the flower, but of course you won’t get as many squash if you pick females. These flowers are wildly attractive to bees, so check for bees inside before you pick the flower, and give them a chance to escape safely out in the garden. I rinse them well and place them trumpet-down on a dish towel to drain. Some sources tell you to pick out the stamens or pistol, but I don’t think this is necessary. Just get them clean and fairly dry. Then carefully pull or snip off the six long green sepals that stick up from the base outside the petals. These have a coarse texture and detract from the delicacy of the finished dish. The blooms need to be cooked the day they are picked. To keep them from morning to evening, wrap them gently in the damp towel that they drained on, put the bundle in a plastic bag, and refrigerate until dinnertime. It’s better to use them for lunch, though.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms
A dozen large squash blossoms or 20-24 small ones, rinsed and drained, stems trimmed off level with the base of the flower
1 pound of very fresh ricotta
1/2 cup very finely grated best quality Parmesan, loosely packed
6 large sprigs of basil, leaves picked off the stem and torn (NOT cut) into large chunks
White part of one large or 2 small scallions, very finely minced.
Long chive leaves, twice as many as the number of blossoms
5 tablespoons butter
Make sure the ricotta is very fresh and free of bitterness. In a bowl, mix it with the Parmesan, minced scallion, and half the torn basil leaves. Taste the filling and add a little salt if needed, but don’t overpower the delicate flavors. Using your fingers and working very gently, fill each blossom with the cheese mixture. You will need to work a little down into each trumpet, but don’t tear them by pushing too hard. Fill each trumpet about halfway, and don’t overstuff. Now hold two long chive leaves together and tie a square knot at the end of each trumpet, and trim the ends to about 1″ long. I admit that this is a bit fiddly and not completely necessary, but the tied bundles look so attractive that I strongly recommend it. Now heat a skillet over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter, and put in the filled blossoms. You will need to turn them about three times to get the blossoms cooked on all sides. Work very carefully with a small spatula and your fingers, so as not to tear them. Let them get slightly browned in spots but not darkened all over. The cooking usually takes me about 15 minutes. Then put them on plates, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter in the pan and drizzle a little over each plateful, and scatter with the remaining torn basil leaves. Serve with a good baguette, and eat with gratitude for the pleasures of the season.

Passing Pleasures: late summer flowers

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Part of the joy of seasonal living is the lavish abundance of late summer. Tomatoes and eggplants are sunkissed and beautiful, a wide variety of fruit is available, and meals seem to plan themselves. But even if you aren’t a cook-it-at-home sort of person, this is the time to fill your house with flowers. Local flowers are beautiful, and they don’t cause ground to be poisoned, workers to be exposed  to toxins, and refrigerated trucks to be filled with petroleum to haul them around. They are a pure and good thing, and in a few more weeks we’ll have the first frosts and they won’t be here any more, so run to your nearest farmer’s market and indulge. I buy flowers at the downtown market at Central and Eighth and at the Corrales market. I’m sure that other markets have similar offerings. If you go to the Downtown market, see Chispas Farms for zinnias and Majestic Farms for sunflowers. Get there early, because the flowers sell out fast.

   A writer whom I admire once described buying flowers at a French market, then carrying them while meeting friends for lunch at a cafe’. The waitress fussed about the “mess” and pointed out that artificial  flowers would last much longer, to which a gentleman at the table replied “But, madame,  you too will wither and grow old, and you too must be appreciated and loved while you are in bloom.” Exactly.

The First Tomatoes

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A grill offers wonderful vegetable cooking options. It’s a pity that most people only cook meat on their grills, because grilled vegetables make wonderful and satisfying summer meals. If you are a grilling enthusiast, or would like to become one, I highly recommend the elegant cookbook by Francis Mallmann Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. My husband, the family grill-wallah, was intrigued by the directions for Burnt Tomatoes, and set out to make a great tomato sandwich. All the hot work stays outside, and your kitchen is spared. Of course you can buy tomatoes at the Farmers Market if you don’t grow them yourself, but if you plant a few around your house, you’re likely to realize why they were grown as an ornamental even back when they were thought to be poisonous.
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The Joys of Summer: dinner on the grill

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When it’s too damn hot to heat up the kitchen, the pleasures of summer dinners are just getting started. My garden is producing huge beautiful heads of broccoli right now, and the blossoms have died off the potatoes, indicating that I can start digging new potatoes. You can go to the Los Ranchos or Corrales farmers markets and find the Fishhuggers, Kenny and Brenna, who will sell you a splendid King Salmon “breakfast” steak from a fish personally caught by Kenny. They do beautifully on the grill. Add one large sweet potato and you’re all set. The small amount of prep work can be done in the morning, before the heat starts, and then the entire meal is finished on the grill.  If you read my earlier post (“The First Garlic,” three posts ago)and made garlic confit, you have a head start on the prep work. 

King salmon is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, and personally I would rather eat delicious food than take pills, so for me the choice to eat Kenny’s wild-caught sustainable Alaskan fish whenever I can afford it is an easy one.

This meal is especially nice if you need to feed vegans and vegetarians as well as fish-eaters, because the vegetables are so satisfying by themselves.

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My Southeast Asian Summer: Beef salad

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The hotter it gets, the more interested I am in the piquant and flavorful foods of southeast Asia. Recently I picked the last of my lettuce, and an Asian-inspired meat salad seemed like an obvious choice for a summer dinner on the patio. It’s hard to give an exact nationality for this salad, since I’m obsessed with Thai and Vietnamese food and this has some elements of each.
First, grow your lettuce and herbs. I plant a little lettuce every two weeks throughout the spring, and make sure that the last few plantings are in light shade. I haven’t yet been able to pick any lettuce in July or August, but it always does well through early June. This year I did best with romaines, including a beautiful maroon one called “Marshall” which I got from Territorial Seeds. It’s disease-resistant and was the last lettuce in my garden to bolt. Of course, you can buy the lettuce if you need to. For the herbs, you need a few sprigs each of cilantro, Thai basil, lemon basil, and rau ram. If you don’t grow herbs yourself, you may be limited to Thai basil and cilantro, but the salad will still be very good.
Next, catch your beef. I’m a firm believer in grass-fed beef. It may be better for us, and beyond question it’s better for the cows. For more discussion of grass-fed and sustainable meats and more sourcesd, see my website. I buy big sirloin steaks from our local Fishhuggers at the Corrales Farmers Market on Sunday morning. A single steak will always provide the two of us with three meals, often four, and sometimes five. Grill it plainly for the first meal, and you can take it in a lot of directions after that. It has a wonderful beefy flavor, and you don’t need much to have a flavor impact, so cold grass-fed steak in your refrigerator is a meal waiting to happen.
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