Seasons by the Sea: Eats Blossoms and Leaves

Zucchini blossoms now prevalent
Squash blossoms are prevalent this time of year. When picking your own, beware of bees trapped inside them. Laura Donnelly Photos

Years ago, the only way I could find zucchini blossoms was to go pick my own or beg a friend with some vigorous plants to give me some. 

I recall picking a big bunch of them at Quail Hill. Upon returning home, I proceeded to give them a quick rinse and remove the stamens. Turned out, every single one had a drowsy honeybee that I had woken from its slumber. After much thrashing around like Ed Grimley on “Saturday Night Live,” every window and door of the house thrown open, the bees departed and I was ready to continue. I’m only telling you this in case you go out and pick your own.

The last couple of summers I have seen zucchini blossoms for sale at many farm stands and markets. Not only that, they seem to have an extended season. Hey, as long as the zukes grow, you’ve got blossoms.

The bad news is they can be quite expensive, usually between 50 cents and $1 each. No wonder Epicurious calls them the “jalapeno popper of the jet set.” But you don’t need a lot, perhaps four per person as an appetizer. In Italy and France they are often served stuffed with herbed ricotta or goat cheese before frying, but to me that’s just gilding the lily. They have such a delicate flavor, that’s all I want to taste. If you’re not into battering and frying, they can also be snipped into ribbons and folded into a summery risotto, giving it a pretty yellow-orange hue and faint zucchini flavor.

What else can you find in abundance right now? Those crazy-looking garlic scapes are in season and they are fun to play with as well, especially if you are a fan of all things allium. Garlic scapes are the thin, curly stalks that grow from the bulbs of hardneck garlic plants. They are harvested before they bloom so the garlic plant can channel its energy back into the bulb. Scapes are milder than the bulb and can be used the same way as scallions, sliced into rings and used raw or cooked. Make a pesto (after trimming off the stringy tip), sauté them and fold into egg dishes, add them to stir fries, or pickle them.

Swiss chard is everywhere right now as well. Exquisite, brightly colored rainbow chard comes in red, yellow, pink, and white. The Fordhook Giant variety is crinkly with thick, white stalks, and Ruby Red has thin red stalks and a slightly stronger flavor. In Europe, every bit is used, the leaves are stripped from the stem and used like spinach and the stalks are chopped and braised or baked into a gratin. Try it with a bit of anchovy paste! Swiss chard is full of vitamins A, B, and K, as well as magnesium, potassium, and iron. Try wrapping fish filets in big chard leaves before baking, they keep the fish moist and make for a snazzy presentation. When the leaves are small and young, you can toss them in salads.

Let’s talk about zucchini blossoms some more. If you are picking your own, you will notice that some flowers are growing from a stem and some are growing from a tiny zucchini/squash. The latter are females. Sometimes you will see them sold with the baby zucchini attached to the flower. I have tried frying them together but they don’t cook evenly and the fruit is a little bit watery. It’s best to pick the males and leave an inch or two of stem on them for frying. Let the females continue to grow into baseball bats.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about herbs in the garden or from the farms and the teas you can make with them. I don’t get a lot of sun in my little plot, (about four to six hours each morning), but find I can grow lemon verbena, various thymes, basil, parsley, chives, etc. The front of the house gets more sun so I am growing chamomile in a pot with rosemary and a few other sun lovers. A variety of mints are allowed to go cuckoo everywhere because I use a lot of mint.

A visiting chef friend picked a few sprigs of chamomile and chocolate mint and steeped them together. Sounds weird, but it was delicious! These herbal teas are called tisanes in France and are considered good for digestion. Lemon verbena is my favorite, followed by peppermint leaves to make a sweetened Moroccan-style tea. The spearmint is used in mucho cocktails and also for “potatoes Fontecchio,” the best mint pesto potato salad from “The Silver Palate Cookbook.”

Here are some recipes for some of these garden delights. I’m going back to Amber Waves Farm to try to figure out what to do with kohlrabi!

Click for recipes

At Amber Waves in Amagansett, the array of produce provides an instant snapshot as to what is locally grown at any given time.