Food of the Moment: Squash Blossoms

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I'm used to being invaded by squash at this time of year, as many of you probably are too—paper sacks full of zucchini left on the front porch by neighbors were a common perk (or hazard) of small-town Vermont summers.

This summer, I'm noticing squash all over the place again, but in a less familiar form.

It started at the Smithsonian NMAI's Mitsitam cafe, where I ordered the vegetarian pupusa.

"What's in it?" I asked the server. "Squashed flowers," he said, or at least that's what I heard. (I later learned they were actually loroco flowers, but the cafe has often used squash blossoms in its ever-changing menu.)

Soon after that, I walked by Oyamel, Jose Andres' excellent Mexican restaurant in downtown DC, and discovered that they celebrate an annual "Squash Blossom Festival" (sorry, it just ended). At the taco stand that has bloomed on the restaurant's sidewalk for the summer, I tried the squash blossom taco, a delicious little work of art.

And last night, squash fever struck again—this time at my favorite DC pizza place, 2 Amys, where the special involved thin strips of zucchini and luscious puddles of buffalo mozzarella topped with those now-familiar orange and green blossoms.

Curious, I did a little research. I learned that squash blossoms are "extraordinarily perishable," which explains why I've never seen them at the supermarket, and that most of the ones I ate were probably male, culled from zucchini plants after they'd done their duty pollinating the fruit-producing females. (The female blossoms are even yummier, since they come with bite-sized baby squash attached, though for obvious reasons they may be more expensive.)

Squash blossoms are cheap and plentiful in Latin America, where they are called flores de calabaza, but around here they're mostly a farmers' market delicacy. If you're a home gardener, maybe you already have some right under your nose—to answer the oddly clairvoyant question my aunt called to ask me as I wrote this, yes, all types of squash blossoms are edible, from patty pans to pumpkins!

Nutritionally, the flowers are similar to lettuce; you'd have to eat a lot to get much out of them. Aesthetically, however, they can bring a dish to life with a splash of color and texture. Depending on who you ask, they taste like popcorn or something slightly sweet and nutty; or, more poetically, like pure summer and squash perfume.

There are many ways to cook and enjoy these beauties—fried, baked, souped-up or stuffed—although I've personally not tried any yet. If I do get my hands on some fresh blossoms, I'll start with this super-simple risotto recipe, and perhaps work up the courage to try a more complicated quesadilla recipe.

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