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Recipes and Stories

26 May 2012: Fried Squash Blossoms

Mama's Fried Squash Blossoms

One of the great delicacies of the garden in late spring and early summer are edible blossoms, picked early in the morning and mixed into salads, minced and folded into compound butters, or, perhaps best of all, dipped in batter and fried.

Here in Savannah and over in Italy, one of the best of these blooms is, pardon the expression, presently in full flower: the butter-yellow blooms of summer squash – delicate yellow crooknecks and slim, green zucchini. Colleague Judy Witts Francini, who lives and teaches in Tuscany’s Chianti region, has been sharing her method for frying the blooms and is quite frankly making me homesick. And not for Italy.

My Southern mother and grandmother also fried squash blossoms, in almost exactly the same way that the Italians do, simply dipped in fritter batter and pan-fried.

While Italians often stuff them with fresh ricotta, or, according to Francini, day old mozzarella and a sliver of anchovy, or as Chef Roberto Leoci’s mother did, mozzarella and prosciutto, they’re usually not stuffed down South. Which is odd, since we tend to put cured pork in just about everything, but I digress.

My grandmother said the old folks knew them as “poor man’s fish” and given the way that she and my mother fried them, it’s easy to see why: they used very shallow fat, so the blossoms collapse and flatten and look for all the world like a small fried fish fillet.

Now, my mother’s family lived at the headwaters of the Savannah River, and we never knew why fried squash blossoms came to be called “poor man’s” fish in a place where a mess cost a man nothing but time. Never mind that: this is the South; names that make no sense are part of our birthright.

Just hush up and enjoy them.

Mama’s Fried Squash Blossoms
Serves 3-4

1 dozen squash blossoms
4 ounces (1 light cup) all-purpose flour
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
½ to 2/3 cup cold water
1 large egg, separated

1. Gently clean the blossoms in water, drain well, carefully cut out the stamen. Set them aside while you make the batter.

2. Put the flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt and a light grinding of pepper. Lightly whisk to mix, then make a well in the center. Add about half a cup of water and egg yolk and whisk until the batter is smooth. It should be fairly thin, but not too thin – like a good crêpe batter or rich heavy cream. If it seems too thick, whisk in a little more water.

3. Using a clean whisk and a copper or stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg white until it forms soft peaks. Stir a little of it into the batter to soften it, then gradually fold in the remaining white.

4. Preheat the oven to 200º F. Put enough oil into an enameled Dutch oven or deep skillet to cover the bottom by at least an inch, but no more than halfway up the sides. Over medium heat bring it to 350-365º F. One at a time, dip the blossoms in the fritter batter and slip them into the fat. Fry, turning once or twice, until they are golden brown. Blot briefly on absorbent paper then transfer to a wire cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Keep them in the warm oven while you fry the remaining blossoms.

5. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve hot.

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