Ode to Flor de Calabaza

My husband and I spent three weeks vagabonding through Mexico this past winter. I was lured by the chance to taste new foods, of course, and to explore cenotes–beautiful underground watering holes central to Mayan culture. cenoteThat trip away was about renewal, an escape from the chilly winter and our recent loss, so naturally, I became smitten by flor de calabaza, or the vivid yellow-orange squash blossom that embodied spring and life to me. It’s not that I had never had it before, but rather I was struck by how it appeared in so many transformations. The ladies at the street market threw plain, fresh ones along with stringy, stretchy Oaxacan quesillo in their tlayudas (similar to quesadillas) grilled on their hot comales; this simple presentation was my favorite incarnation.

So, when I returned home and was one day planning for my summer garden, I knew I had to plant zucchini for those ephemeral, golden gossamer flowers. I searched through the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds company website and settled on Striata D’Italia Squash based on their purported superb flavor and early yield as well as their reputation for producing giant blossoms. Apparently, the Costata also produces many male blossoms (which are the ones that you pick as flowers because they do not have zucchini-bearing potential).

My plant has been bursting with huge, bright male flowers, and now that my first female blossom appeared, I hand-pollinated it and picked the male ones after their purpose had been served. Since our garden is small, we also had a smattering of gorgeous strawberries, sugar snap peas, and lettuces. With the weather so warm, I felt the best way to honor these ingredients was in a simple (but tasty) salad along with some soft, creamy Buffalo mozzarella and fresh eggs from our hens.

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Ingredients for 2 servings: lettuce, handful sugar snap peas, about 5 squash blossoms, a few strawberries, 1 ball buffalo mozzarella, 1-2 eggs, lemon, garlic, anchovy (optional), extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, 1 orange, sugar, S&P

For perfect soft boiled eggs, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Gently lower room-temperature eggs into the boiling water and lower heat to a simmer. Set timer for 6 minutes. Remove, immerse in cold water to cool, and peel.

Tear petals of squash blossoms, reserving a couple whole for garnish.

For vinaigrette, mash one anchovy with a fork. (You may omit, but I like the briny, umami flavor it imparts.) Make a paste with one small clove of garlic (using a microplane grater or with coarse salt using the flat side of your knife blade). Add to a large mixing bowl. Add 1 tsp of honey. Squeeze a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice and whisk in good extra virgin olive oil to taste. (I like a 1:3 ratio of acid to oil). Add greens and torn squash blossom petals on top of dressing. Shower in a pinch of salt and pepper and toss gently to coat every leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Balsamic gastrique: Put 3 Tbsp of sugar in small saucepan along with 1 Tbsp of water. Turn on heat and caramelize sugar while swirling until medium amber color. Add 1/2 c balsamic vinegar and juice from half an orange along with zest of orange. Reduce heat to simmer and reduce until mixture thickens and coats a spoon, about 15 minutes. Strain and reserve.

Squash Blossom Salad

Assemble salad with lettuce, snap peas cut on the bias, halved egg, mozzarella slices, and strawberry. Top with reserved squash blossom. Drizzle lightly with balsamic gastrique. Serve with grilled crusty bread. Bon appetit!

You may also enjoy reading

Gather Ye Squash Blossoms While Ye May on NPR by Susan Chang

Five Ways to Eat Squash Blossoms from the The Kitchn

Zucchini’s Flower Power by Melissa Clark in The New York Times

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