Oh, the birds and the bees, you gotta love ’em, especially if you enjoy eating things like this week’s dish, Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms. After Jody’s rant last week about the tyranny of seasonality, we’re presenting another dish that is, well, seasonal. But move fast, the season for squash blossoms is here and gone in the blink of an eye and you’ll have to wait another year for the opportunity to enjoy their delicate flavor fried, stuffed or, as we do here, expressed in a light pasta sauce.
Squash blossoms come in two genders, male and female. It’s generally the male blossoms that pop up at farmers’ markets. The large, extravagant male flowers would seem to be an obvious choice over the much smaller females blossoms, but there’s a more important reason why it’s the males who are sold. Only females produce squash. The ovary of a female squash blossom, outside the actual flower, sitting at its base, grows into a squash. What farmer wants to pinch off the flowers that are going to give him his crop? The male flowers’ sole function, aside from all that preening and strutting and boasting about how size matters, is to fertilize the female. Bees, of course, are the brokers in this reproductive dance of the floral sexes. Until a couple of days ago I didn’t know how to tell the gals from the guys. Live and learn.
The giant manly flowers on the left are male. Each bloom is found at the end of a long narrow stem. The much smaller flowers on the right are female. You can see the baby squashes attached to the female blossoms. To our surprise one of the farmers who supplies Rialto came up with these. Of course, we think we know why he didn’t have qualms about picking them – they’re from the notoriously fecund zucchini vine (the male blossoms are summer squash). He’s probably busy at this very moment throttling other squashy innocents in their floral cradles. At the end of harvest season you can’t give zucchini away, but the blossoms with baby squash attached are a hot product.
Torchio are short, torch-shaped pasta. Originally we planned to prepare this dish with gigli, another short pasta, shaped like lilies*, but we couldn’t get any so we settled on torchio. Orecchiette would also have been a good choice. Whatever your selection of pasta, use a short one designed to trap bits of chunky sauce in its nooks and crannies. Enjoy. Ken
*Get it? Flower-shaped pasta with squash blossom sauce?
Torchio Pasta with Squash Blossoms
Makes 4 servings
This sauce cooks very quickly. If you have all of your ingredients ready the sauce will be finished by the time the pasta is done.
- 1 pound ripe tomatoes
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ¼ cup minced shallots
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ounce prosciutto sliced paper thin and cut into ⅛-inch julienne
- 4 ounces male squash blossoms, stamens removed, trimmed of spiny bits at the base and torn lengthwise into strips ½-inch wide*
- 2 tablespoons minced black olives, such as Nicoise or Taggia (nothing cured in oil or vinegar)
- ¼ cup torn herb leaves: basil, parsley, oregano
- ¾ pound torchio pasta (gigli or orecchiette are good substitutes)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
*Leave female blossoms whole. Pinch off the baby squashes and slice crosswise into thin rounds. Remove any structures inside the flowers.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water large enough to hold the tomatoes. Score a shallow cross in the base of each tomato. One at a time lower the tomatoes into the boiling water for 10 seconds, then transfer them to the ice water. Don’t let them linger in the boiling water. Your aim is to loosen the skin, not cook the flesh. Peel as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. The skins should come right off. Slice the peeled tomatoes and then chop into ½-inch dice. Set aside.
- Salt the boiling water. Add the pasta, stir until it returns to a boil, and then cook per the package instructions until al dente (probably around 10 minutes). While the past cooks, make the sauce as outlined in the next step up to the point where you add the pasta. When the pasta finishes cooking, reserve ½ cup pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots (and sliced squash, if using), and cook 1 minute or until aromatic. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook 3 minutes. Add the prosciutto, blossoms, olives and herbs. Toss once and remove from the heat. Add half the reserved pasta water, the remaining butter and the pasta. Return the pan to the heat, and toss for a minutes or so just until the sauce clings evenly to the pasta. If it feels too dry, add the remaining pasta water.
- Serve in warm bowls. Pass the cheese.
When you encounter an abundance of squash blossoms this is a recipe you need in your pocket. The season is so fleeting you want to use as many as you can while you can. Next week it might be all over. The dish is light on the sauce in order to let the flavor of the blossoms shine. If you want to add more squash blossoms, go ahead.
Brian Rae, chef de cuisine at Rialto, unexpectedly found these adorable female blossoms. I hadn’t expected to use baby squashes, but the opportunity to add a bit more squash flavor was too good to pass up. I sliced them very thin and them with the garlic in the beginning. If , as is likely, you find only male blossoms, use the full 4 ounces in the recipe exclusively for flowers. Don’t bother adding additional squash.
I was still in a contrarian frame of mind when I wrote this recipe so I resorted to butter instead of my usual evoo. The result was delicious. Butter has a unique ability to knit ingredients together into a seamless series of flavors, but I have to admit, it’s a bit richer than it would have been had I stuck to my normal olive oil. If anyone asks about the butter, just tell them it’s Tuscan.
If you’d like a slideshow, or simply a closer look, click on one of photo icons below.
Yum, I have some courgette flowers in my garden right now, and ate them stuffed and fried last week in Venice! This looks utterly delicious.
You know, for someone living on a budget you get more bang-for-the-buck out your money than anyone I know. Squash flowers in Venice. Tough to top. ;-) Ken
Thankfully I wasn’t footing the bill – it was a work trip although, as I write that, I feel that I should put work in inverted commas ;)
That was quite a lesson on reproduction, I may have to start calling you Dr. Ken. Hope you all managed well enough throughout the scorching hot PMC ride. What was your reward dinner upon returning home Sunday night? Nice job on this beauty of a dish.
Hi, Steve–After the piece went out I realized I missed an opportunity that may never roll around again, the chance to title a post, SQUASH BLOSSOMS – THE SEX ISSUE. Oh, well. Next life. We did celebrate in Provincetown, by working our way through the Belgian-style ale list at the Beer Garden, great menu (duck confit gnocchi!!!) and a stunning selection of beers on tap, all served in a little shaded patio. Well worth a stop. The night before, we really had a killer meal that the team cooked themselves at the Mashnee home of our host–homemade buratta and date jam to start, along with a bowl of muhammara that was supposed to last through the grilled corn, butterflied leg of lamb and bluefish. Not a chance. For dessert, homemade chocolate cookies from TRADE. All washed down with a Lagrein rose. It really gave everyone a leg up the next day. Ken
These photos are insanely beautiful! Hopefully there will be some squash blossoms at the Union Sq farmers market tomorrow!
I’ve seen them at the Hmong Farmers’ stand for the last two weeks–are they in Union Square? I know that someone was selling them at the Harvard Square FM in front on the Charles Hotel on Sundays as well last year, but I haven’t been there in awhile. If you’re in the Square… Thanks for the photo compliments. Ken
thanks for the awesome photoshoot of your prep!! Yep, headed to Farmers’ Market in the am on quest for blossoms!! Yum!!!
Glad it worked for you. Thanks for stopping by. Ken
Lovely photos. Lovely recipe. I adore squash blossoms. We find them so seldom here, though did make them once (mozzarella and herb-stuffed, cornmeal-coated and olive oil-fried) earlier in the summer. A farmer friend told us nobody in Louisville buys them but that they sell out immediately just up the road in Cincinnati. Go figure.
Isn’t that strange. They’re great. We even eat them in a salad if they’re available and we don’t have time to do anything fancier with them. We once had them while staying with an old friend who has the amazing karma to own a farmhouse overlooking the Luberon Valley. Goat cheese in some; tapenade in the others. Both fried. Made for one of those is-this-as-good-as-it-gets? moments. Ken
Gorgeous, and the pictures are fantastic such lovely colours
It’s hard to screw up squash blossoms, but thanks for the compliment. Ken
I like a sauce that cooks in the time it takes to boil the pasta. This looks and sounds terrific and very much my sort of Lunch. Zucchini flowers are lovely and plentiful at the moment but have been rather neglected this year. Time to redress the balance. Those tomatoes! Oh and I like Jody’s note about the butter and it’s ability to knit everything together – so true.
Hi, Rachel–I’m happy you’re willing to give it a try. And you’re right about the tomatoes–they don’t get any better than this time of the year, so the sauce is a brief pleasure. Enjoy. Ken
Gorgeous photos, Ken and Jody. I could definitely go for a plate of this pasta, stat.
Thanks. Squash blossoms are great–they always do as you ask. Ken
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Thanks for the blog love. Ken
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