Fried Flowers

It was a busy week at the SESNA Community Garden! Two groups of kindergarteners from Richmond School came over on Wednesday for a field trip in our little pumpkin patch, choosing pumpkins to take home. With a little supplementation by Jordan Blake of the Marion-Polk Food Share, there were plenty of pumpkins to choose from, and we volunteers got to bring some home as well. I was really excited to confirm that these were sugar pie pumpkins, perfect for roasting and pureeing for all your fall pumpkin dessert needs, once they’re done serving as Halloween decorations, that is!

We also had a busy work day at the garden yesterday, planting donated perennials, herbs, and hearty vegetables like kohlrabi, leeks, and collard greens. We cleaned up quite a few beds in anticipation of wetter weather in the next month, including the remains of the pumpkins, and I quickly darted through the patch to cull any viable blossoms I could. I was able to bring home a double handful, mostly male blossoms, which was quite a treasure trove for me—I had watched hopefully for squash blossoms at the market stalls all summer with no luck.

Squash blossoms are delicate and don’t keep for very long, so I used some of the nicest ones with dinner last night, and plant to use up the rest today. Our only prior experience with them was the fried zucchini blossoms we sampled at a restaurant in Manhattan while Jeremy was going to art school there. Even though these were pumpkin blossoms, I figured I could use them the same way, so I stuffed 8 big flowers with a mixture of homemade ricotta and feta cheese, secured them with toothpicks, and fried them up with a light egg-flour dredge. To prepare the blossoms, I gently rinsed them inside and out, checking for bugs as I went, and pinched off the stems and stamens.

These little gems fried up in no time flat, crisp outside and creamy in the middle, with the salty bite of feta complementing the mildly sweet squashy flavor of the blossoms. Just one more reason for me to try planting some sort of squash—summer or winter—in my backyard next year! And I’ve still got quite a few blossoms to cook up tomorrow, if I can narrow down the possibilities: pasta, risotto, quesadillas, pizza, or muffins are the current contenders.

Even though I gave some serious consideration to making an entire meal of fried squash blossoms alone, I figured we were better off with a real main course as well. Jeremy suggested pork chops, and since Nolan was being so clingy that I didn’t have time to look up a real recipe, I just improvised a dish that turned out very nicely: boneless chops seared with ras el hanout, and finished in a pool of chicken broth and roasted cherry tomato puree. As I’ve been doing with most of our meals in the last week or so, I threw some coarsely chopped Brussels sprout leaves into the liquid as it reduced, and once the chops were securely nestled onto a bed of couscous, I finished off the reduction with a splash of cream.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

8 large squash blossoms, rinsed, stemmed, stamen removed (from pumpkins, zucchini, etc.)
1/3 C ricotta cheese, preferably homemade
2 T feta cheese, crumbled
2 T heavy cream
Minced garlic and herbs to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 extra-large egg, beaten with a splash of milk
About 1/2 C all-purpose flour
About 1 quart neutral oil, for frying

Mix together the ricotta, feta, cream, seasonings to taste, and about a tablespoon of the beaten egg. Stir well to combine. Gently spoon no more than a tablespoon of this mixture into each squash blossom, rewrap the petals to enclose the filling, and secure with a toothpick. If your ricotta mixture is on the wet side (as it may be if you use store-bought ricotta) and you are concerned about leakage, you can toss the filled blossoms into the freezer for a few minutes to help them firm up.

In a 10″ cast iron skillet, heat the oil to about 375F. Meanwhile, dip each stuffed blossom in the beaten egg mixture and then dredge lightly in the flour. When the oil is ready, drop in a few blossoms at a time, and cook until they are golden brown, turning partway through cooking. This should just take a minute or two. Remove and drain on paper towels, salting lightly while they are still glistening. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pork Chops with Brussels Sprouts and Golden Tomato Glaze

2 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ras el hanout
1/4 tsp salt
2 thick boneless pork loin chops
1 C chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 C roasted golden tomato puree
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 C Brussels sprouts, shredded (I used loose leaves, coarsely sliced)
1/4 C heavy cream

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Mix together the ras el hanout and salt, and rub over both sides of the pork chops. Add the pork chops to the skillet, and sear for several minutes on each side, until they have a nice golden crust. Pour in the chicken stock and tomato puree, along with the garlic and any leftover ras el hanout. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, and continue to cook the pork until it is done.

Remove the pork chops to a plate to rest while finishing the sauce. Add the Brussels sprouts to the liquid in the skillet and simmer until they are wilted and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the heavy cream and turn up the heat to medium high; boil the sauce until it is reduced to a gravy-like consistency. Spoon over the pork and serve.

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