This is by far the most intimidating post that I have written to date because it is the most anticipated recipe by those who have sampled these transcendent indulgences. Capturing the precise nuances of the process has not been an easy endeavor. For 10 years, Dom has been perfecting his recipe and techniques for preparing fiori di zucca ripieni di formaggio. These mozzarella-and-anchovy-stuffed squash blossoms are our summer addiction. In fact, for the last three years we have planted 15-20 zucchini plants solely to harvest the blossoms with the actual zucchini squash crop as an added bonus.
Morningside Farmer’s Market during the pre-dawn hours on Saturdays to stand at the head of the line to fuel our squash blossom habit for the week. As it happens, one of these mornings Dom was asked by a fellow customer what he was planning to purchase, fully expecting that like everyone else in line, his response would be “Oh, the heirloom tomatoes, of course.” So when he answered, “squash blossoms,” he was met with an avalanche of chatter with one woman telling the line of customers within earshot that “there was a guy who painstakingly stuffed each blossom with cheese and sardines and then dipped them in a magic mixture to fry them.” The woman then turned to Dom and asked him what he was going to do with HIS blossoms, to which he replied, “Umm, I’m the ‘guy.’ And, they are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, not sardines,” at which point he stepped up to purchase every blossom in sight before walking home.
There are several secrets to making the fragile, radiantly-orange flowers into an other-worldly delicacy. The first trick is to harvest the male blossoms as soon after they open as humanly possible. Another is to remove the pollen-dusted stamen before stuffing the blossom. This is easiest to do when they are first picked. The blossoms should be immediately refrigerated because they begin to wilt very rapidly. If you will not be using the blossoms the same evening, consider stuffing them and placing them back in the refrigerator for the next day. Fresh blossoms seldom last more than two days.
1 1-lb. package of mozzarella cheese, whole-milk or part-skim
1 small can anchovies packed in oil
Tempura elixir (Below)
Oil for frying
To stuff the blossoms, cut the mozzarella into rectangular pieces (like Jenga blocks) that are about ¼-inch thick and roughly the same approximate length as the blossoms. Fresh mozzarella is not recommended for this recipe because the moisture level is too high.
Next, cut one or two of the anchovy fillets in half lengthwise and again into thirds or fourths. Place one of the anchovy slivers on the end of each block of cheese and place anchovy-side-down into each zucchini flower. Many people simply ignore the anchovy, however, they add a salty, earthy note that enhances the subtle squashy flavor of the blossoms. If you have anchovy-averse diners, make sure you designate the anchovy-free flowers from the anchovy-full ones as they are impossible to differentiate after frying. We suggest a toothpick in the stem, but this hasn't always been foolproof as the toothpick sometimes comes out during frying. (If you come up with a good suggestion, PLEASE include in the comments so we can benefit from your expertise!)
The blossoms can be stuffed in advance. Arrange in a single layer on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Dom’s Magic Tempura Elixir
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups VERY cold seltzer water
To make tempura mix, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together then stream in one cup of cold seltzer water and whisk lightly just to mix. You can use still water if seltzer is not available. The critical thing is that the water be COLD.
At this point check the consistency, it should be relatively thick like waffle batter (not as thick as cookie dough.) It is better for the batter to be thicker at this point because you may need to add some ice later that will thin the batter some. Use the remaining water to adjust the consistency as needed. Set the bowl of batter in the refrigerator or over a bowl of ice and let sit for 10 minutes or so.
While the batter rests, preheat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until tiny wisps of smoke start to appear on the surface. Because olive oil has a very low smoking point, Dom uses a mixture of olive oil and canola oil. The olive imparts a nice flavor while the canola oil has a higher smoking point which gives the battered blossoms a less greasy, extremely crispy coating.
To batter the blossoms, remove the batter from the fridge and give it a good stir. Add a couple of ice cubes to ensure it is hyper-cold. Gently submerge a blossom in the batter and drag it through from stem to petal allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl. Using the same dragging motion, lay the battered blossom in the heated oil. Repeat this process laying battered blossoms at least an inch apart in the oil.
Once cooked, drain blossoms on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with kosher or sea salt. (Dom actually dusts them with superfine popcorn salt.) Serve the ultra-crisp flowers piping hot as they tend to get soggy if they get too cool and do not reheat well; (this is an understatement). A chilled glass of crisp Chardonnay, Prosecco or even champagne is the perfect accompaniment.