I decided for spring and summer 2016 that EVERY time I went to a Farmers’ Market, I had to buy an item of produce that 1) was in the peak of its season and 2) I’d never cooked with before. This challenge made each trip to the Farmers’ Market feel like an adventure.
In late June and early July, I began to notice splashes of bright color from squash blossoms at the produce stands, so I was naturally intrigued and grabbed a bunch. I have always admired these gorgeous, colorful flowers from afar, but secretly wondered what on Earth people did with them.
When I got home with my find, I went straight to the interwebs to find out. As it turns out, squash blossoms appear in cuisines as diverse as Native American, Mexican, Italian, Thai, and Indian. The common denominator frequently seems to be frying: sometimes battered, sometimes not; sometimes stuffed, sometimes not. (Okay, I WAY oversimplified that, but you get the idea.)
Next, I went to my cookbook source for strange ingredients: The Silver Spoon. In many cases, even the weirdest of ingredients will appear in this Bible of Italian cooking—not once, but SEVERAL times. I was not disappointed.
My foodie bible had no less than five recipes for squash blossoms, though I didn’t find them under “squash blossoms”, “squash flowers”, “blossoms”, or “flowers”. After much rooting through the index, “zucchini flowers” finally worked. Included were a recipe for mussels with zucchini flowers, along with the predictable recipes for fried zucchini flowers (stuffed AND unstuffed) and 2 soups.
I was intrigued by the short intro to the “zucchini flowers” section of the book: yes, there’s a SECTION (well, not quite. It’s a SUBsection under “zucchini”). In addition to the recipes mentioned above, it also suggested adding the flowers to frittatas or risottos.
I make frittatas several times a week, so I felt a bit “ho-hum” about that recommendation. Risotto is more my speed, but I decided to change it up and substitute orzo for the usual arborio rice, which gives us squash blossom ORZOTTO. (I realize that orzotti are pearl barley, but I think the name “orzotto” can apply very nicely to orzo as well. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
The great part about the orzotto hack is that the pasta takes much less time to cook to the desired creamy, slightly-further-than-al-dente texture than rice. The pasta takes on a nice, nutty flavor when toasted lightly before adding white wine. Made with some flavorful, homemade chicken or vegetable stock, a few saffron threads, some Parmesan cheese, and the squash flowers, it’s a thing of greatness.
I decided to double up on the zucchini-ness of my squash blossom orzotto by tossing some zucchini coins with olive oil, S&P, and Romano cheese. Then I browned them up under the broiler to serve as a garnish for my orzotto. And so, Blooming Zucchini Orzotto was born. Now, I have to admit: when I gave Phil a small serving of my creation, I was NOT expecting that he’d like it. Squash blossoms are pretty exotic, after all, and their mild flavor doesn’t exactly smack you in the taste buds. But he LOVED it. He went back for seconds, and I noticed that THAT portion was about twice the one I’d served him before.
In the final analysis, although I’m not exactly doing cartwheels and raving about the sublime awesomeness of squash blossoms, I’d certainly buy these babies again. I’d like to put squash flowers into quesadillas, maybe, or try out a soup recipe. They certainly add a pop of color to a dish.
Squash Blossom Orzotto
- 3 tbsp. butter - divided
- 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup Romano cheese
- 1 1/2 cup orzo
- 3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth - preferably
- homemade or low-sodium
- 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
- 6 squash blossoms
- 2 medium zucchini - washed and cut into 1/2" thick coins
- 1 small pinch saffron threads
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup good-quality Parmesan cheese
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp. chiffonade of fresh Italian parsley - for garnish
FOR THE ZUCCHINI COINS
- Adjust oven rack to the second-highest position. Set your broiler on high.
- Toss zucchini coins in the olive oil, Romano cheese, a couple of liberal pinches of salt, and several grinds of black pepper.
- Set the coins onto a baking rack set over an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Place under broiler, checking frequently, until browned on one side. Flip the coins and repeat on the other side, making sure that the coins don't get overcooked.
FOR THE ORZOTTO:
- Add broth to a saucepan and bring to a low simmer; reduce heat to medium-low. Add the saffron, first crumbling the threads in between your fingers. Place a ladle in the broth.
- Pull the orange squash blossoms from the prickly, green, leafy part at the bottom (the calyx), making sure to keep the fleshy, pale-colored portion near the bottom. Pull the squash blossoms open and remove the stamen (at the center of the flower). Wash gently under cold water and pat dry. Chiffonade.
- Add 2 tbsp. of the butter to a heavy-bottomed pot and melt over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent. Add the orzo and sauté for 2 minutes, or until slightly darkened and toasty-smelling.
- Turn the heat to high and add the wine. Stir continuously until the wine is almost completely absorbed.
- Reduce heat to medium-high and add in a ladleful of broth. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously, until the broth is absorbed. Add another ladleful of broth and repeat.
- When about 3/4 of the broth has been added to the orzo, or after about 12 minutes, check the texture of the orzo. I like it just past al dente.
- Add the squash blossoms, remaining butter, and Parmesan cheese, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and check the seasoning, adjusting as necessary. Garnish with parsley and zucchini coins; serve immediately. Enjoy!