Unless you grew up in an Italian household, eating zucchini blossoms may seem foreign to you. But these days, this seasonal delicacy is actually a coveted farmer's market item. Ask your local farmer when his fresh crop is due, purchase them at specialty produce stores or even grow your own summer squash and harvest the blossoms yourself (the preferred method to ensure freshness). However you acquire them, zucchini blossoms fancy up any summertime spread. You can even store them for a later date and then break them out for a hint of freshness once summer is over.
Growing Zucchini Blossoms
The fresher the blossoms, the better they taste so growing your own is the only way to ensure a steady, high-quality supply. Growing zucchini blossoms is as easy as growing the prolific zucchini plant itself. To do so, amend your soil with compost soon after your last frost and plant seeds or starts 3 to 4 feet apart in rows with about 1 foot of spacing in between. Zucchini plants like well-drained, consistently moist soil; but to avoid disease and fungus, don't overwater them. Summer squash matures in approximately 6 to 7 weeks and flowers will show much sooner.
Harvesting Zucchini Blossoms
Once your zucchini plant blossoms (at approximately 4 to 5 weeks), pick the long-stemmed male flowers, making sure to leave a few to pollinate the females (the females are the only ones that fruit). The single stamen located in the middle of the flower and covered on pollen distinguishes the male flowers from the females. The females, on the other hand, have shorter stems and more complex stigmas (multiple stems) in the flower's center. Zucchini blossom fanatics sometimes like to harvest just a few female blossoms with the small fruit attached. If you choose to pick the females, just remember that this is one less zucchini you'll reap in your harvest.
Purchasing Zucchini Blossoms
If growing your own zucchini blossoms seems like a stressful endeavor, buy them at farmers markets or your local specialty grocer instead. You can usually find the flowers at markets starting in June (depending on your climate) and through the remainder of summer. Ask your farmer early in the season if and when they'll bring them to market. Any farmer who grows zucchini has blossoms available to harvest so if they know you want them, they will be more apt to provide them to sell.
If you buy your flowers at the store, ensure they are fresh by asking the produce manager when they were received. It's best to buy blossoms stored in clamshell containers as they are very fragile. Clamshells keep them from smashing and bruising each other in transit. Look for blossoms with green, moist stems and bright orange, wilt-free flowers.
Storing Zucchini Blossoms
Since zucchini blossoms spoil quickly, they are best used within the same day of picking or purchasing (making your own garden the best source). Plan a special weekend meal and hit your farmer's market first thing that day to ensure freshness. If you need to store them, wrap them loosely in a plastic bag or keep them in their clamshell to chill in the fridge. Be sure to place them in a spot where other produce won't crush them.
Cooking With Zucchini Blossoms
Zucchini blossoms have a delicate squash flavor and a soft, velvety texture. Eaten raw in salads they maintain their texture, similar to other edible flowers, whereas cooking tenderizes them very quickly. In traditional Italian cuisine, zucchini blossoms are stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese and herbs and then dipped in a light batter and pan fried in oil. Zucchini blossoms' delicate flavor also pairs well with fresh cheese plates, on top of pizza and in egg dishes like a summer frittata.