The notion of creating treasure from someone else’s trash can be found everywhere from art – Georgia’s own folk artist Howard Finster, for instance, to restaurant and home kitchens. The something-from-nothing philosophy got the Greatest Generation through the Depression, and it’s a principle in use today as cooks practice frugality in the kitchen. Farm to table, nose to tail, and now, blossom to fruit.
Just like the more commonly eaten squash blossoms, the blossoms of pumpkins may be stuffed and fried and eaten as a savory first course. Pumpkins produce two kinds of blossoms, male and female. Only the female develops fruit, so after the male blossoms have done their duty of pollinating the females (with a little help from bees and other bugs), they aren’t needed.
Atlanta Executive Chef Christina Curry of Epicurean Endeavors offers advice on using the blossoms, based on her experience with zucchini flowers. She suggests using a tempura batter and alternative plans for blossom projects: dicing the fowers and using them in a fritter, or a quick high temp roast with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. “You are only limited by your imagination, so try some different combinations and decide which you like best,” she said.
These pumpkin blossoms are filled with a lemony goat cheese filling made with rich chevre and ricotta flavored with the last of the summer’s basil and chives. A rice flour tempura batter offers just the right light texture for the delicate blossoms.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to purchase pumpkin or squash blossoms, plan to cook with them right away. If you’re picking the blossoms, make sure that they have not been treated with any kind of pesticide, and look for the blooms without the female bump behind the blossom. Keep the blossoms in a closed brown paper bag or zipper lock bag with a slightly damp paper towel. It’s best to pick pumpkin or squash blossoms early in the day, before they close up for their afternoon naps.To clean the blossoms, rinse them off very lightly with water, and check for signs of critters or mildew inside. Pinch and pull out the stamens.
To fill the blossoms, use a small spoon such as a baby’s feeding spoon. Scoop the filling into the flowers. When all the blossoms are stuffed, heat the oil in a pan, and have a paper towel-lined plate handy. Have the mayo ready and your diners on call. Mix the batter, dip the blossoms and fry. Drain on paper towels and serve.
Tempura Battered, Goat Cheese -Stuffed Pumpkin Blossoms
Look for rice flour in the Latin foods section of your Atlanta supermarket.
½ cup ricotta
½ cup goat cheese
1 teaspoon lemon zest (about a ½ lemon)
A couple turns of freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup loosely packed basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)
½ teaspoon chopped chives
Tempura Battered Pumpkin Blossoms
1/3 cup rice flour (look in the Latin foods section of the market)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup seltzer
One dozen fresh, organic pumpkin blossoms
Vegetable or canola oil for frying
½ cup mayonnaise mixed with juice of ½ lemon
1. Make the mayo first. Either Homemade, or jazz up good-quality storebought with a squeeze of lemon juice. Keep in refrigerator while cooking the pumpkin flowers.
2. Mix up the filling: In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, goat cheese, lemon zest, basil and chives. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Using a baby feeding spoon and working carefully,place about a tablespoon of filling in each blossom. If the bloom is tightened, use a paring knife to cut a slit along the side. Fold the petals over the filling.
4. Set up a frying station. Fill a Dutch oven with 2 inches of canola oil and set over medium-high heat. In a medium bowl, stir together rice flour, all-purpose flour, salt and egg yolk. Whisk in seltzer. Adjust the batter consistency to your liking by adding either a bit more flour or a bit more seltzer.
5. Oil is ready when a test dribble of batter bubbles to the surface. Using the stem as a hand-hold, dip each stuffed blossom in the batter then place gently into the bubbling oil. These cook very quickly – about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve with lemony mayo on the side.