With their short season and limited shelf life - squash blossoms are one of the most delightful fleeting pleasures of summer. They're available at farmers markets in San Diego now, and should be coming into markets elsewhere around the country if they're not there already. I've enjoyed them as a topping for flatbread pizza at Coco 500 in San Francisco and stuffed into quesadillas at Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista, but to my mind, the highest and best use of squash blossoms is for these fritters.
I've tried frying squash blossoms a few times in the past, but it wasn't until this summer that I really got it right. The first couple of batches I stuffed with ricotta cheese, which worked fine - but was a little bland. Mild goat cheese has more flavor and a nice creamy texture. I also took a page from another source to double dip these in the coating. It's a little more indulgent, but if you're only going to eat these once or twice a year you might as well go for it, right? That's how I justify it anyway.
The real secret to these is in the combination of buttermilk for dipping and the baking powder in the coating - one reacts with the other to create a light but sturdy crust that shatters when you bite into it. The chile powder adds flavor without actually making them spicy - you should just be able to taste a little something.
These were served on Sunday as the first course of a three course supper with a chilled cucumber soup. For the main dish I roasted two chickens, Zuni style, and made a big salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette. For dessert we slathered cheese and honey on crostini and passed around a bottle of Brander's "Moscato d'Fredi" and a box of Chuao chocolates. It was a good meal in the company of great friends - made even sweeter by the fact that one of our number was able to join us for the first time in months. It truly doesn't get any better than that.
Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters
1 bunch of squash blossoms (about 1 dozen) - male or female - (female have the little zucchini attached - they will grow into zucchini, the male blossoms are just that - and will wither if not eaten!)*
A small log of good goat cheese - at room temperature (soft)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 - 2 tsp Rancho Gordo chile powder (enough that you can just see it when you stir it in)
1 tsp fine sea salt (I use Maldon, so I just use a little more and rub it between my fingers)
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups buttermilk (if you don't have any, some whole milk and a couple of teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice will create the same reaction - it's the acid.)
1 small bottle of vegetable oil (enough to fill a 2-2.5 qt pot about 2/3 full)
Soak the blossoms in water for an hour or so (submerge them with a plate or similar) to dislodge any ants or bugs and loosen any dust or dirt. Swish and rinse thoroughly and place on paper towels on the counter to dry for an hour or two. (You can also pry them apart and remove the stamen, but I don't bother unless there's a lot of pollen or debris - unless someone tells me why I should I don't see the point - it just tears up the flower)
Mix together the flour, chile powder, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour the buttermilk into another bowl.
Prepare a plate with several layers of paper towels for blotting. In a heavy small pot, heat your vegetable oil until a thermometer reads 375 degrees. In the meantime, stuff the blossoms. Using your fingers - gently poke a wad of goat cheese down into the center of each one and press together.
When the oil is hot, dip the flowers one by one into the buttermilk, and dredge them thoroughly in the flower, pressing down to work the flour into the petals. Shake once lightly, and then dunk the blossom back into the buttermilk. Drop the blossom into the flour and dredge once more, making sure all of the moist areas are well coated. Do NOT shake. Lay the blossom gently in the hot oil. It should begin to sizzle madly - but if it browns quickly, the oil might be a bit too hot.
Allow room for them to swim a bit - you don't want to overcrowd the pot, or the oil will cool off. (I actually have a few too many in the pot above.) When they're starting to brown - flip them over to keep it even. When they are nice and brown all over, remove them with tongs to the paper towels. Drain for a few minutes, then place on fresh paper towels on a different plate for serving. Et voila! or as Julia would say, Bon Appetit!
*Squash blossoms should be cooked within a day or two after they are purchased. Count on two per person for appetizers, more if they're a main course.