Why Hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man fights an ongoing war against calories for what they did to his great-uncle. I’m your avuncular avenger, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is another in our long-running series of “Jon had an idea, waited too long, and almost ruined everything”, which is also a fine summation of most of my life, though frequently that drops the “almost”. Today, we’re making Fried Zucchini Blossoms.
Why don’t you Zucca on this?!
As a legitimately brief summation of the necessary biological and culinary background for this dish, let’s plow through some set-up. Zucchini is a squash, it comes from Italy, and it grows in gardens. Being a fruiting plant, it therefore produces flowers. These flowers, as is NOT always true of the components of otherwise edible plants, are themselves edible. (Seriously, there’s a lot of plants where like, you can eat the fruit, but the LEAVES are poison, or the stem, etc.)
Now, this will be our third return to the Zucchini well, having made Fritters and Cake from them last August. We will also be revisiting a theme of those earlier posts of emotional honesty and clarity, while ditching the multiple-Jons narrative of the two of them.
Also, most of the classical allusions, which were a weird addition to posts about zucchini and personal emotions.
The reason for abandoning that structure is three-fold: firstly, because I’m about to discuss why I do the multiple Jon thing at all, and trying to explain that through itself would be a Nightmare before Labor Day of hard work and unnecessary elements; secondly, because it would be an additional level of narrative complexity and difficulty imposed accidentally at the last minute, which ties into the third reason: because of the difference between the Jon of last August, and the Jon of this August
I didn’t make this to complete some sort of Zucchini trilogy. It wasn’t planned out. It was a quirk of timing (except, not really, it’s just when zucchini comes into season), and I didn’t even REMEMBER Fritters post until I name-dropped it to set-up the link. And here’s the thing: the Jon of last August was a pent-up ball of frustration, a man unable to act, with nothing but time. That is not the Jon of right now. Right now, I’m pretty fucking exhausted. I went from having basically one social obligation a week, and 10ish hours of work for the site, to a situation where, on top of 30+ hours of work, and the 6-10 more for the site (I’ve been skimping a little by not cooking as much, getting Nate to write that post, etc.), I had social events and other activities at a quite healthy rate. I’ve had something to do (sometimes multiple things) every night since Tuesday. And I will STILL have things to do until I get home Wednesday. Which is fine. Great, even. But it’s a very different lifestyle, and one that hasn’t fully settled into my psyche or body. I’m overstimulated, in a word. I’m tired. I wore myself out. Like a dog at its first day at the dog park after a long winter, I ran myself to exhaustion.
When I talk about all this not linking with my mind and body, it’s because they’ve been constant forces on me for the last few weeks. My multiple medical inspections have revealed that, as far as my physician can tell, I’m physically healthy. (or at least, WAS.) That the numerous weird effects I was experiencing were, as far as he could determine, simply psychosomatic expressions of anxiety. Not that they weren’t real, but rather they were rooted in my mind, not my body.
A Jumbled View of Jon
And that is itself the root of what I want to talk about here. The multiple-Jons of the past posts were part of one of my many coping mechanisms for, among other things, anxiety and fear. I don’t have the time to fully unpack and explain it right now (I know because I wrote out ~400 words, went “shit, this is going to be a 800-1,000 word topic on its OWN” and snipped them out to maybe revisit later.) The basics are that I use the idea of the multiple “me”s to create a mental diffusion of stressors: “Yes, this thing is upsetting or worrying, but I thought about it from a lot of angles, and it’s going to be fine/it was the right call.”
"It's hard, but we decided, the needed to burn."
"LEARN. We decided they needed to LEARN."
"OH. ...Well, you can understand the mistake, at least."
"Of course. We tried our best."
By putting on my masks, I can say “it’s okay if this doesn’t work out, because it doesn’t hurt the REAL ME, just the one who’s here right now” The problem is, of course, that if I can create a nigh-infinite mental committee, it also means that, if I’m really worried or afraid, I can lock an idea or action in said committee, endlessly playing the “but what if” game with myself, and avoiding making a choice at all. I most commonly use this trick with asking women out: while sure, I have a mild avoidance to the pain of being rejected, I’m honestly more emotionally invested in the idea of “oh god, what if I’ve completely misread the signs, and I come off as creepy?” or high-minded intellectual shit like “I don’t want to hit on women immediately because I don’t want to be shallow. But if I get to know women, and THEN start hitting on them, I’m a creep who never really wanted to be their friend…” In short, I over-think it.
Speaking of over-thinking it, I’m starting to realize that an attempt to make a fully emotionally honest post after a weekend where I definitely drank at least three times more drinks than I had hours of sleep wasn’t a wise plan, so let’s stuff this fucking Pandora’s box of introspection back in its hole to burst out terrifyingly later, like a Jack-in-the-box in a horror film. Because I’ve tried like, 3 different mental tacks, and they’ve all gone weird or too involved for me. (One involved quoting a book about playing magical fairy trauma survivors. I’m definitely coming back to that someday.) So back to the Plant, as Homer Simpson said most mornings.
Food Can Bloom
So yes, if you didn’t know, Zucchini have flowers. Specifically, they have male and female flowers. Male ones spread pollen and pop off, while female ones absorb pollen, close up, and turn into actual zucchini ‘fruit’.
Personally, I can't gender my flowers. Hell, I can barely properly gender PEOPLE.
Either kind is edible, and taste like, duh, zucchini. They can be either quite cheap, or quite expensive, depending on what your local market is like. They’re VERY seasonal, and most farms let them turn into zucchini, or let them turn into fertilizer. But some farms harvest them, either for complicated crop rotation reasons, or to make a little more cash off the crop. My bags came from the Leavenworth Farmer’s Market, and I got 3 bags of them for $4. Guy just gave me a free bag, presumably because I was the first guy to ask for any that day.
If you’re cooking blossoms, the ‘default’ method is to fry them. which is what I did. But first, I made a HELL of a mess. See, this recipe was so simple and fast, that it actually fell into what I call my “negligible gap”: when a task is so easy I could do it any time…so I never do it. 6 ingredients, 20 minutes of cooking time, and I had intentionally picked the HARD version: you can cook these by just dipping the blossoms in batter and frying that. Knock out half the ingredients.
Heck, once you dip them, you can't SEE the difference, so what's the point?
However, I wanted to make things more difficult…so we stuffed them with a mixture of cheese, herbs, and lemon zest. Still super easy. Which meant that, despite having all the ingredients, I just kept…not cooking it. Why throw together the 20 minutes of effort now, when I can microwave some burritos, and not have to deal with hot oil? I did this for…over a week, and then realized that I was about to be out of town for 3 days, my post was due on the day after that, and I leave tomorrow, so I have to cook this NOW or it won’t get done, and I’ll have to take my first “sick day” since…actually, last August.
So, seconds before I was supposed to leave for a party, I lumbered into action. I drug out my bag of barely-still edible blossoms, ready to turn them into a Catastrophe. My phone dead, I relied on JJ, who I had trapped with a cunning ruse of “claiming to be ready to go to the party, and then saying I needed his help before we could leave.” So together, we tackled this timely menace.
I’ve since learned that cleaning the blossoms is something that should be done more delicately and thoroughly than we did, but no one got sick or complained, so how bad could we have been? Technically, you’re supposed to trim around the base of the blossom, then gently unfold it, and pluck out the stamen. We just punched through a side petal like the Kool-Aid man and tore the stamen out.
I didn't take any pictures of that process, because my hands were full. So instead I took a picture of the flowers already re-filled.
We mixed the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and mint with some salt and pepper, and heated the oil. Next, the batter. And this is where we ran into two problems simultaneously, both technically my fault, though I would argue one of them. As has been noted in these posts since #5, Joe and I have very different ideas of what does and does not constitute a well-stocked kitchen. Joe likes a fridge with 4 varieties of Kimchi, I want black pepper. And vegetable oil. So it turned out when I popped my head in the cupboard to see if he had flour, saw the bag of it, and said “great”, I was technically in the wrong when I didn’t check the bag to ensure it was, you know, NORMAL flour. It was instead Self-Rising Flour, and I’ve just realized I can explain the difference on Thursday, so I have something that looks like a plan for the week!
More directly my fault, I was supposed to have picked up a fizzy liquid for the batter. Club soda would work, as would a mild lager-style beer. Turns out, in the 15 beers I had brought with me, NONE were lager-style. So instead, I used the only option we had: Dragonfruit La Croix. A decision I doubted so fiercely, for perhaps the first time in KC history, I turned to my sous-chef and said “JJ, I’m going to give you an opportunity to stop me.”
"This is it. Don't try to stop me this time, Smee. Don't try to stop me this time, Smee. Don't you dare try to stop me this time, Smee, try to stop me. Smee, you'd better get up off your ass. Get over here, Smee."
My grim progress un-stopped, we used the fizzy soda to form our light and fluffy batter. And after we dunked our stuffed squash leaves in the batter, we dropped them into hot oil. I can’t tell you how hot, as Joe also doesn’t believe in instant thermometers. I just turned the quart of oil on medium high for 10ish minutes, and then started dropping the blossoms in. It must have been close to the right temp, because our batter puffed out like popcorn and browned up in under a minute. We became a well-oiled machine, churning out fluffy filled flowers one after the other. Then we gazed on the mess this mere 20 minute mission had wrought.
After a quick clean, we popped in the car and headed to the party, because if there’s one thing you want to do with a recipe you’ve never made before, thrown together out of ersatz parts and last-minute meddling, it’s serve it to your friends without tasting it first. I WOULD have done so, but as we arrived, an ongoing bout of digestive issues I was going through at the time forced me to visit the restrooms as my first stop. By the time I returned, it had already begun.
They kind look like jalapeño poppers.
And apparently turned out perfectly fine! Both of the first two people to taste them congratulated me personally, lauding the dish. Our stack of them was one of the first plates emptied at the party, the other being JJ’s Spam Musubi plate. So we walked away happy with what we’d thrown together.
Of course, zucchini blossom season is almost certainly over by now, but you could check. I’d ask at the farmer’s markets if you have a chance, or just wait until next year to make these surprisingly superb last-minute munchies.
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THURSDAY: I BRING YOU ALL FLOURS, BECAUSE WE’RE DOING A CULINARY COMPENDIUM. OR MAYBE WE GET ANOTHER POST FROM SOMEONE WHO ISN’T ME. DEPENDS ON THE TIMING/PICTURE NEEDS
MONDAY: I DON’T KNOW, THAT WAS THE ONLY THING I’VE COOKED IN WEEKS. (IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, MY SCHEDULE’S JUST JAM-PACKED UNTIL WEDNESDAY, SO HOPEFULLY I’LL KNOW ON THURSDAY. THOUGH I DID HAVE SOMETHING I KIND OF WANTED TO MAKE…
Deep-Fried Riccota Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.
12 zucchini blossoms, washed, stamens removed.
1 cup all-purpose flour
12 oz soda water, sparkling water, or light beer
Salt and Pepper
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
½ tbsp. lemon zest.
Salt and pepper.
1 quart oil for frying
1. Heat the oil to roughly 350-375 degrees. While oil is heating, mix together all the ingredients of the filling, and scoop into the cleaned blossoms.
2. Mix together the batter ingredients. The batter should be thin, so tinker with the numbers until you’re satisfied.
3. Once the oil is ready, simply dunk the stuffed blossoms into the batter, making sure they’re covered thoroughly, and lower into the hot oil, frying until golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Move to a paper-towel lined plate when fried, and serve warm.