Sunday, June 29, 2008

Crispy Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Let's talk about zucchini blossoms. For the longest time I had heard about what a delicacy they are, and how delicious, and how quickly they come and go every year, but I never had the chance to try them. So when I saw them on the menu at La Piazza (which has closed, but Chef Di Benedetto has since opened a new restaurant - Gaetano's), I decided to give them a try. I loved the food at La Piazza, and I'm sure the zucchini blossoms stuffed with herbed goat cheese and fried were perfectly prepared, so I was disappointed that, while I liked the dish, I did not love it. The cheese dominated, and I came away feeling like I still had not experienced the true flavor of a zucchini blossom, or that there might be no real flavor to experience.

I saw them once at the green market a few years ago but was too intimidated at the thought of cooking them to bring them home with me. But this year I have been bringing home all kinds of new things, so when I saw that there were zucchini blossoms at the green market last Saturday morning a basket went into my bag before I could talk myself out of it. I put them in the refrigerator when I got home and started looking around online while I got ready to go spend the afternoon at the knit shop. By the time I discovered that they have an extremely short shelf life and should be used as soon as possible, it was too late for me to anything about it but hope that they would survive until the evening.

And they came through ok, if not quite as fresh as when they had started. But I still didn't know exactly what I was going to do with them. I didn't want to stuff them with cheese, and I certainly didn't want to deep fry them. I've been putting most of my new vegetables into some kind of saute or pasta sauce, but I wanted to find something that would utilize them on their own so I could see what they tasted like.

Finally, I landed on this recipe for Crunchy Squash Blossoms at Blossoms, flour, baking powder, and canola oil. What could be simpler?
I washed the blossoms and gently patted them dry. Even dried, there was enough moisture on them for the flour and baking powder mixture to coat them well. I heated up a few tablespoons of canola oil in my cast-iron skillet. When it was hot, I put the blossoms in. I only had six so they fit in the pan nicely and I didn't have to do more than one batch. I let them fry for a minute or two before I moved them, and then I turned them over and let them cook another minute or so. After that I let them cook another few minutes, turning them more frequently to make sure they were evenly fried. Then I took them out and laid them on a paper towel-covered plate to drain.
They had no seasoning on them whatsoever, I had thought about adding salt to the flour and baking powder mixture but decided against it. I did add salt immediately after taking them out of the skillet. There was an accompanying recipe for fish sauce on, but I did not feel like going to that trouble, and again I was afraid it would interfere too much with the basic taste. So instead, I sprinkled the barest hint of cayenne on each one, followed by a pinch of cumin.

I picked one up and popped it into my mouth. The first thing I felt and tasted were the crisp, crunchy flowers that dissolved into the little baby ball of zucchini at the end. The seasonings were perfect, but I think anything would work as long there is not too much of it. I'm thinking thyme and basil, or za'atar. I can't wait to try out some other combinations.

If I get another crack at them. They were all gone yesterday by the time I got to the market. Drat those local chefs - who do they think they are? I plan to be there at the crack of dawn next week. That's how good these are.

6-12 zucchini blossoms
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
salt, pepper, cayenne and cumin
Canola oil for frying (about 3 Tbsp)

Wash blossoms and gently pat dry. Mix flour and baking powder and coat blossoms. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a skillet (cast iron is best), and heat it over medium-high heat until a drop of water splatters when it hits the skillet. Add blossoms and saute, turning every minute or so, until every side has had a turn in the oil and is golden brown. Remove and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Season immediately with salt, pepper, a trace of cayenne and a hint of cumin (or whatever spices you would like).

Eat immediately. These do not re-heat well, according to They didn't last long enough for me to find out.

Adapted from recipe found at

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This Is What Happens When I "Just Stop in for a Look"

The usual way I go home from my Saturday walks with Bob takes me right past Pastoral. I'm usually tired and ready to put my feet up so it is relatively easy to resist the temptation to duck in. But a couple of weeks ago we didn't walk as far as we normally do and we weren't out as late, so my feet did not protest when I thought to myself, "Maybe I should go in today, just to look around and see what's new."

And walked out with three cheeses, two different kinds of olives, cornichons, and a bag of toast rounds. A later trip to Treasure Island rounded it out with another kind of olive and those beautiful pear tomatoes.

One of the cheeses I bought was a sharp goat cheddar that had to come home with me once I had tasted it. And then I needed something to spread onto the toast rounds that had somehow found their way into my basket. I asked for suggestions and the woman who was helping me pointed out another goat cheese, this one super soft and spreadable. Unfortunately, she did not put the names of any of the cheeses on the labels (I'll have to remember to ask them to in the future), so I do not know what either of them are. But they were both delicious - the spreadable one here and the goat cheddar is now the standard white cheese for my pimiento cheese. The third cheese I bought was some Parmigiana Reggiano for pasta.

One kind of olives I bought at Pastoral was a spicy herbed French type - sharp and full of flavor. The other one was in a crock marked Lemon Olives. I'd never seen them before so I tasted one. It's one of those things where the minute you pop it into your mouth and you get that first hint of how it's going to taste, you know it was meant to be. It's lemon-infused olive oil times quadrillion zillion. A somewhat obscene amount of those came home with me. The cornichons were sharp and a little sour and were a nice foil for the cheese.

And then later, when I was at Treasure Island, I finally bought the almond-stuffed olives I've been ogling for a while. Those were a little disappointing, though. They weren't bad; they just suffered in comparison with the others.

And the tomatoes were firm and had just the right of sweetness to counterbalance the sourness of the olives. All in all a lovely, light supper for a warm summery day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Meat Sauce

After growing up in a time and house where pasta always meant spaghetti and the sauce was always the same tomato-based meat sauce seasoned with :shudder: ground oregano, once I discovered all of the different kinds of pasta out there that could be covered with all kinds of simple sauces and vegetables I never looked back. Some garlic or onion, a little thyme and basil, a can of stewed tomatoes, or fresh when they're in season, maybe some artichoke hearts, zucchini, or eggplant, and I was done. Served over short pastas like farfalle, rigatoni, rotini, penne, or my two new favorites gemelli or cavatappi, it makes a lovely meal that can be ready in about 30 minutes.

That being said, I have recently found my thoughts turning back to that old meaty sauce of my youth. Maybe it was my success with the sloppy joes that set me on the nostalgia path. Maybe it was all the packages of ground beef, turkey and pork hibernating in my freezer. Maybe it was the heavy cream left over from the ganache I have been trying to perfect.

Whatever the cause, the result was this beautiful plate of pasta with meat sauce. It's nice to reminisce every now and then.

One thing I will never go back to, however, is the tomatos sauce and tomato paste combination that was in our old family recipe. Stewed tomatoes cooked down is the only way to go.

Because I had the cream, I thought I would make a Bolognese sauce. But all of the recipes I looked at called for milk. I went ahead and used the cream so I don't know if I can call this a bolognese sauce, but I'm sure somewhere at some time some Italian chef used cream instead of milk so I'm sticking with it.


1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. ground beef (I used chuck)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-oz. cans whole, diced or chopped stewed tomatoes, with their juice
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup cream

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until translucent. Add beef and cook until browned. Add tomatoes, thyme, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce, and simmer until well thickened, anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 hours. Add cream and turn off the heat.

Serve over any kind of pasta. Top with grated parmigian or romano cheese.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lamb Chop with Fingerlings and Spinach

It's been quite a while now since my birthday trip to the Green Market. I better show what I did with the things I bought before I forget. Up there in my string market bag (which came out H-U-G-E, but thats what you get when you don't follow the pattern) are the fingerling potatoes, fresh spinach, and purple asparagus.

What did I do with the purple asparagus? I'll give you three guesses. You don't know me very well if you didn't say "some kind of pasta, I'll bet!" And that's exactly what I did. I made a decent tetrazzini type of dish. Nothing to write home about - I didn't have the right kind of pasta and I didn't use enough liquid and I didn't have any black olives, but it was good enough that I hope to play with it some more and come up with something truly fabulous that I will be happy to share with you.

The fingerling potatoes and the spinach were bought specifically to accompany the lamb chops I planned to make at some point during the weekend.

Fingerling potatoes are relatively new to me. I first heard about them in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but it was a while before I found any, let alone bought them, mostly at the green market. In the five or so years since then, they will appear every once in a while at the grocery store, which is a lovely surprise, but not something to be counted on. I was pretty sure I would find them at Nichols Farm & Orchard at the green market. They always have a good variety of potatoes, and that day was no exception.
There is a lovely recipe for fingerling potatoes and garlic in Madison's book, and it has been my template for roasted potatoes ever since I first made it. The original recipe calls for potatoes, garlic, butter, salt and pepper. And it is delicious just like that. But if I have any fresh herbs around at the time I am making it I will throw them in as well, or if I know I will be making them while I'm at the store and see something nice and fresh, like the thyme I used for these potatoes. This dish goes well with any meat - lamb, beef, chicken, pork - and I'm sure it would complement fish rather nicely as well, although I haven't tried that.

My basic cooking method for fresh spinach also came from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (if I have not talked more often about this cookbook, then I have been remiss, for it is an excellent resource on how to prepare and cook just about every vegetable available today, and a must-have whether or not you are vegetarian). It's ever so simple. You wash the spinach and get rid of any tough stem ends, heat up a frying pan, and cook the leaves in whatever water still clings to them from their washing. Takes about 5 minutes for them to cook down, then you can add whatever seasonings and extras you want. You can even cook it ahead this way, and then prepare it however you want later. For this batch, I simply added the rest of some blood orange vinaigrette I needed to use up. It was surprisingly good
As for the lamb, I went back to my old standard. Every once in a while I try something new, but nothing really can compete with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and mint followed by about six minutes per side under the broiler. The za'atar came close, but I guess a shoulder chop just isn't lamb to me without the mint.

I don't believe I have posted the recipe for the potatoes before. I must correct that. The only other change I ever make to this recipe is to add fresh herbs before putting it into the oven. I've used both butter and olive oil; both work equally well.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables


3 Tbsp butter or olive oil, plus extra for the dish
1 lb. fingerling or other potatoes, scrubbed and sliced lengthwise into halves or thirds
6 garlic gloves, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the ovent to 400 deg. F. Lightly butter a shallow baking dish.

Layer the potatoes in the dish with the garlic and small pieces of butter or a drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper. Make sure there's butter or oil for the top.

Add a few tablespoons water to the dish, then cover and bake until tender, 40-50 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 minutes longer to brown the top.

from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison (Broadway Books, 1997).

Exported from Home Cookin 5.5 (

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