These pretty baked summer squash blossoms are dairy- and gluten- free, and stuffed with a flavorful chickpea and rainbow chard filling.
There is something simple and beautiful about an edible flower on a plate. Used sparingly, they can add interesting flavor and color to many dishes. But a flower big enough to stuff?
The granddaddy of edible flowers
Squash blossoms are the granddaddy of the edible flower world, big enough to stuff with a presence that demands the center of the plate, not relegation to the role of pretty garnish. While many edible flowers have a floral flavor and are often bitter, squash blossoms have a subtle flavor of the summer squash, and they play nicely with lots of other vegetables.
Search at farmers markets
If you don’t have squash growing in your garden yourself, now is the time to start finding them at farmers markets. If you don’t see them at your farm stand, ask your farmer if (s)he’ll pick some for you. I begged mine from my farmer friend Dan and I am truly grateful for his kindness. See Harlow Farm here. The blossoms were beautiful! I almost wanted to put them in a vase, but I decided to eat them instead.
A squash plant has both male and female flowers, and are bee pollinated. The female flowers already have a little swollen baby squash at the base and are usually located in the middle of the plant. The males will not bear fruit, their job is to provide the pollen for the bees to carry to the females. They have longer stems and are usually on the outside of the plant.
Two treats in one
Of course, if you use a female flower, it won’t turn into big squash. It is fun to cook them with a slightly larger squash already formed, as I have done. You get both the little tempura fruit and the yummy stuffed blossom as well!
There are more male flowers than female, so usually you will find these more frequently for sale. If you are growing your own, don’t use up all the males or the females won’t get fertilized!
Of course, you can always stuff them with ricotta…
Sometimes you’ll find these stuffed simply with a slice of mozzarella and an anchovy filet. Since we often see the blossoms stuffed with a creamy ricotta mixture and deep fried, almost to the point of culinary cliché, I wanted to do anything but! I did want to nod to Italian flavors, so chard, beans, and basil provided the base to the stuffing. I used baby chard thinned from my garden, but you can also use baby spinach or other green, even arugula which would be peppery and delicious. Of course, you can make these vegan by simply omitting the anchovy paste.
Most commonly, the blossoms are deep fried, but you can shallow fry them or even bake them, two great alternatives, directions below.
A beautiful yellow squash with its blossom still attached is a treat indeed!
Squash Flowers Stuffed with Chickpeas and Swiss Chard
- 1 tbsp. fruity olive oil
- ½ cup minced onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. anchovy paste
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- ¼ pound or so Swiss chard, rough chop
- ¼ tsp. basil, minced, packed
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 can great Northern beans or chickpeas
- ¾ cup gluten free or rice flour
- 10-12 squash flowers
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 light beer or 12 oz. club soda
- Oil for frying
Gently shake out your blossoms to dislodge any visiting bees. Rinse gently and let dry on a towel.
Remove the stamen from the blossom carefully. I use my long cook’s tweezers. If you rip the blossom, don’t panic, you can still use it! Keep them the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high and add the onion. Sauté until translucent and add the anchovy paste, garlic, and crushed pepper flakes. Continue cooking another minute and add the Swiss chard and a couple of tablespoons of water, salt and pepper. Cook until the chard is wilted and dump into a food processor. This is fast work.
Add the basil, vinegar, and beans (save that bean liquid for another use!) and pulse until you have everything combined, but still maintain some texture. Taste and correct seasoning.
Gently fill the blossoms with one to two teaspoons of the filling and gently twist the top to seal. Fill them all and set aside. If you think they will come apart, secure with a toothpick.
If deep frying:
Heat a large, heavy pot with 3 inches of oil and bring to 350 degrees. In the meantime, prepare batter. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, paprika, and salt and pepper. Add the beer or club soda and mix well. You want this batter to be really thin, so add water if needed to thin it out.
Once the oil is hot, dip a stuffed flour in the batter and let any excess drip off. Add a couple more to the pan, and cook until lightly browned. Drain on a rack, then place in a 200-degree oven to keep warm while you finish frying the rest.
When they are all cooked, sprinkle with grated Parmesan or vegan Parmesan, and garnish with a bit more chopped basil. You can also add a bit of tomato sauce if you like.
To shallow fry:
Place about a ¼ inch of extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat over medium high. Continue as with the deep-fried method. I think this method actually has more flavor and you don’t have to deal with all that oil!
Brush a rimmed baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil. Thin the reserved bean liquid from the beans and gently roll the filled blossoms in it, then dip them in seasoned breadcrumbs. Drizzle with a bit more oil and some Parmesan and bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, until browned and fragrant. This is the method obviously with the lowest fat, and is a tasty alternative to deep frying.
For all the methods, these are delicious sprinkled with Parmesan or dairy-free alternative and served with a little marinara sauce or pesto.
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