Zucchini Sex & Other Matters Culinary

Of course the fruit of the zucchini plant is by no means the only edible portion of it. There are the flowers, which in Italy you can find in pastas and soups. In Mexico it’s not unusual to see them stuffed with cheese or on quesadillas. The Greeks stuff theirs with ground meat or bulgur. Me, I like mine deep fried, either with a little salt and a squeeze of lemon, or in the Thomas Keller style as a scoop for an olive tapenade.

But then zucchini blossoms, like the zucchini fruits themselves, tend not to have a very strong flavor. They can be fried as easily in a slightly sweet batter as in a savory one, then served with a sweet accompaniment (that tomato caramel sauce from last week might be just the ticket). If I can locate some zucchini blossoms at the farmers’ market this weekend, I’ll show you that very thing, though I’m not optimistic. It’s a bit late in the season.

But it always pays to ask your friendly neighborhood zucchini farmer should the urge to make a squash blossom dessert (or appetizer) strike. Most don’t bring them to market as a matter of course, not because they don’t have enough (most zucchini plants are festooned with them) but because they’re very delicate and, as such, a hassle.

When placing an order, it’s customary to request the male blossoms off the plant instead of the female ones. Not because they taste any different, but because the female blossoms are the ones that produce the fruit. Know a male blossom a.) because it occurs directly off the main stalk and b.) it has a stamen in the center with pollen at the tip (which most people remove before eating). Female blossoms by comparison occur at the ends of shoots and have what look like (and in fact are) mini squashes at their base. These are in fact the ovaries of the plant, which swell up into seed-baring fruit. Of course it takes the pollen getting to the ovary for the true fruiting process to occur, and that happens via bees. When a female flower goes unpollinated, the flower and ovary simply shrivel up and rot.

More than a few people prefer to eat female zucchini blossoms because the burgeoning little squash at the end serves as a kind of “handle”, and makes for a more fortifying snack. True squash blossom aficionadoes (and most gardeners) are horrified at such gauche behavior. Yet it is a tried-and-true method for controlling a zucchini plant’s production of fruit (nipping it in the bud, so to speak). But then the same end can be achieved by removing the male blossom too. To spay then? Or to neuter? It’s pretty much up to you.

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