July 18, 2010

Scapes & Blossoms, Farmers' Market Treasures

Beyond Market Greens

Hidden behind and draping over herb filled jars in one vendor stall, were the treasure trove of the Saturday market. With the clang of the market bell, I swooped in and filled my canvas bag with all the vendor had on hand. Even when I hid the bags back in my own market stall, an intrepid shopper spotted the treasures and demanded to know, “Which vendor brought those? What are you going to do with them?” I guess by now you must have a hint?

I rue the day when I will be forced to queue in front of a vendor who sells blossoms and scapes. One shopper is already on to my secret, how many more! The two ambrosias of delight, zucchini blossoms and garlic scapes are totally seasonal, much like early spring morels. Zucchini blossoms are the harbinger of the prolific green squash we gardeners love to hate. Garlic scapes are the flower shoots removed from the garlic plant to encourage the bulb to turn into a large globe. Ah, but with a bit of sleuthing and Johnny-on-the-spot insistence, bags of these earthly delights can be had for under $10, a mere pittance to pay for a trip to gastronomic heaven.

Was it an Italian mama who first fried up a zucchini blossom to feed her family anything and all that grew in her garden? Or did the New York Times food writer who celebrated her own Family Garlic Festival first crush garlic scapes to make pesto? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions. For sure, today my own family will dine on sheep milk feta stuffed into zucchini blossoms to be delicately fried to a golden brown accompanied by a dollop of garlic scape sorrel pesto smeared on penne.

It is not easy to decide from the many ways to fix garlic scapes: roasted, stir-fried, pickled, sprinkled on salad or simmered into a lovely creamy soup. Scapes impart a soft distinctive hint of garlic without the strong hit of pungency from a garlic clove.

Here is a 15-minute recipe for garlic scape sorrel pesto:
  1 cup garlic scapes (about 8 or 9 scapes), top flowery part removed, cut into ¼-inch  slices
  2 cups chopped fresh sorrel
  1/3 cup walnuts
  ¾ cup olive oil
  ¼-1/2 cup grated parmigiano
  ½ teaspoon salt
  black pepper to taste
Place scapes, sorrel, and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and mix until well combined and somewhat smooth. Slowly drizzle in oil. With a rubber spatula, scoop pesto out of bowl and into a mixing bowl. Add parmigiano to taste; add salt and pepper. Makes about 8 ounces pesto. Keeps for up to one week in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Now for the blossom part of the meal:
    6 zucchini blossoms, pistil removed
    6 1/4 inch slices of sheep milk feta
    6 basil leaves
    1/2 cup flour
    1/2 teaspoon Real salt (from Heber, UT)
    3/4 cup soda water
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    oil for frying
Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Carefully rinse the blossoms.
Place 1 piece of feta and 1 basil leaf inside each blossom. Carefully twist the petals together to close. Repeat until all blossoms are stuffed.
In a bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. Whisk in soda water. Batter should be thin like crepe batter. Dip each stuffed flower in the batter. Hold over the bowl to let excess drip off.
Sprinkle a little flour in the oil, if it sizzles the oil is ready. Carefully place each stuffed blossom in the oil. (Note: Fry in batches if you need to, don’t over crowd the pan.) Fry until browned, about 3-4 minutes. Turn occasionally. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. Serve hot.

Brilliant it is that gardeners and farmers have figured a way to double dip on two crops, squash and garlic. Farmers’ markets and CSA’s have no doubt helped to expand the agricultural and gastronomic vocabulary of eaters to include early seasonal additions. Quietly in the field back home, the bumper crop matures while savvy food shoppers scarf up tasty delights, only flowers. 

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