Let’s clear one thing up right out of the gate: Squash blossoms are found on many different plants in the squash family — from pumpkins to spaghetti squash — so don’t be confused if someone calls them zucchini flowers this time of year.
Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how these pretty orange blossoms are showing up on restaurant menus around town. Thanks to their shape and the fact that they are edible, chefs often fill squash blossoms with cheese and fry them up. The vibrant blossoms can also be eaten raw. They taste sweet, a bit earthy and like zucchini when fresh. There are lots of other edible flowers to choose from at the Santa Monica Farmers Market but Casi Richie, whose farm is Life’s A Choke in Lompoc, likes squash blossoms best.
For Chef Ken Takayama, the beginning of summer means a trip to the farmers market to buy squash blossoms for the menu at Mélisse. He dreamt up this elaborate recipe with his team that tastes great and preserves the natural look of the flower. Wrapping the edible flower around a soft-boiled egg and then frying the blossom lightly in breadcrumbs and oil help to keep the flower’s form and petals intact. The squash blossom and egg are then served atop ratatouille, an architectural marvel that is a nod to Europeans who like their ratatouille with eggs, sunny-side up.
Ken Takayama’s Ratatouille with Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Stuffed Squash Blossoms
8 large brown eggs
6 squash blossoms
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup fine bread crumbs (plain)
Vegetable or canola oil, for deep-frying
Make an egg wash with 2 of the eggs and reserve for later use.
Soft-boil the eggs: Bring a medium-sized sauce pan filled with water to a rolling boil. Carefully lower 6 of the eggs (whole in their shells) into the boiling water and cook for exactly 6 minutes. Then, transfer the eggs immediately to an ice bath. Once the eggs are cool to the touch, peel the shells off the eggs.
Prep the blossoms: Carefully remove the pistils from the blossoms without damaging the petals. Gently place one egg inside of each squash blossom, making sure that the egg is completely enclosed within the petals. Repeat for all.
Next, lightly dredge the petals of the stuffed blossoms in a shallow bowl of all-purpose flour, tapping gently to remove any excess flour. Lightly roll the floured petals in the egg wash, being careful not to soak them too much. Then roll the egg-washed area in another shallow bowl of fine bread crumbs and transfer them to a plate or a tray. Reserve the breaded stuffed squash blossoms in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Charred Eggplant Purée
½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Chinese eggplants, peeled
1 pinch of sea salt
2 tbsps grapeseed oil
1½ cups sweet onion, sliced
1 cup filtered water
Sea salt, to taste
Prepare the eggplant: In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the olive oil and sea salt. Then, using a pair of tongs, char the eggplant over an open flame until completely black on all sides.
Cook the vegetables: Next, heat the grapeseed oil in a medium-sized sauce pot over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and sweat until tender. Then, add the charred eggplant and water and simmer on low until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
Make the purée: Transfer the eggplant mix to a Vitamix blender and blend until smooth and velvety. Season with sea salt, to taste. Strain the purée through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl set over ice to chill immediately. Once the purée has completely cooled, transfer it to a plastic container with a lid and reserve.
Green Tomato-Garlic Sauce
2 tsps unsalted butter
½ cup sweet onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, skins on
2 cups large green tomatoes, diced
3 cups filtered water
1 oz Italian sweet basil leaves, stems attached
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
Sea salt, to taste
Cook the vegetables: Heat the unsalted butter in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onions and garlic. Sweat them until tender and translucent, but do not let them caramelize. Next, add the green tomatoes, water and basil and cook over a very low simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.
Make the sauce: Strain the broth through a fine strainer into a medium-sized saucepan. Discard the solids. Add the almond milk and reduce over a low simmer until only 1½ cups of the liquid remain. Season with sea salt, to taste. Then strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl set over ice and chill immediately. Once the sauce has completely cooled, transfer it to a plastic container with a lid and reserve.
Red Pepper Reduction
4 red bell peppers
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Remove the seeds and stems from the bell peppers. Juice the bell pepper flesh using an electric juicer.
Transfer the red bell pepper juice to a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until a quarter of the liquid remains.
Then strain the reduction through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl set over ice and chill immediately. Once the sauce has completely cooled, transfer it to a plastic container with a lid and reserve.
¼ cup grapeseed oil
2 cups medium red bell peppers, diced
2 cups medium green zucchini, diced
2 cups medium yellow zucchini, diced
2 cups medium Chinese eggplants, diced
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup small sweet onion, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled
4 vine-ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cook the vegetables: Heat grapeseed oil in a cast iron skillet over high. Sauté the bell peppers, green zucchini, yellow zucchini and the eggplants separately in batches until they caramelize lightly. Remove from skillet and transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Reserve and set aside.
In a medium-sized sauce pot, sweat the onions and the garlic in the extra-virgin olive oil until they turn translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook over low heat. Next, add the sautéed vegetables and transfer the pot to the preheated oven and cook for about 15 minutes.
Remove the ratatouille from the oven and spread it out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Reserve in the refrigerator.
Assembling the Ratatouille with Stuffed Squash Blossoms
2 green zucchini, sliced into 3-mm thick rings
2 yellow zucchini, sliced into 3-mm thick rings
2 Chinese eggplants, sliced into 3-mm thick rings
4 small Roma tomatoes or Campari tomatoes, sliced into 5-mm thick rings
Ratatouille (recipe above)
Grapeseed oil, as needed
Olive oil, for brushing
6 metal ring molds (7-cm or 2¾-inch diameter)
Preheat the grapeseed oil in a deep-fryer to 350°F. Also, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Cook the vegetables: Heat grapeseed oil in a cast iron skillet over high. Sauté the bell peppers, green zucchini, yellow zucchini and the eggplants separately in batches until lightly caramelized. Remove from skillet and transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Reserve and set aside.
Fill the ring molds: Lightly brush the insides of the metal ring molds with olive oil. Place the ring molds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving enough space between each ring mold.
Arrange the vegetables: Shingle the sautéed vegetable and tomato slices along the inside rim of the ring molds to create an alternating pattern of colors. Next, spoon the Ratatouille into the remaining area inside the ring molds so that it is level with the sliced vegetables. Then, transfer the ratatouille-filled ring molds to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
To serve: Heat the Charred Eggplant Purée in a small saucepan. Spoon a thin circle of the purée onto the center of 6 serving bowls.
Using an offset spatula, transfer each ratatouille-filled ring mold onto the Charred Eggplant Purée and carefully remove the metal rings.
Deep-fry the Stuffed Squash Blossoms for 45 seconds to a minute, until they turn a light golden color. Place one blossom on top of each of the ratatouille rings.
Finally, heat the Green Tomato-Garlic Sauce in a saucepan and spoon it around the Ratatouille. Drizzle a little of the Red Pepper Reduction over the Stuffed Squash Blossoms and serve.