They're a fleeting taste of the season, which is why you should take time to learn about this precious ingredient (including how to store and use them) right now.
Credit: Raymond Hom

You've heard the gardener's lament about growing zucchini: The bountiful summer squash is the gift that keeps on giving... and giving. By summer's end, no one wants to see another zucchini again. The solution is simple: Eat the zucchini flowers instead. Whether homegrown or bought, edible zucchini flowers must be one of the most photogenic crops of early summer, but their time here is fleeting. The season for zucchini flowers begins in early summer, when they are often—and increasingly—available at farmers' markets and occasionally at grocery stores. Of course, if you have the space, you can grow your own. And if you want to avoid that summer squash glut, eating the flowers that produce the marrows is a cinch.

If you have ever grown zucchini, then you already know the initial frustration of watching squash blossoms drop before fruit has formed. This is because most of the those dropping flowers are male zucchini blossoms. They can't make fruit. Only the female flowers produce a squash. Instead of wasting them, collect the blossoms for dinner. How to tell if you have a male or female squash flower? There are two clues: The male blossoms have a noticeably longer stem, while the female zucchini flowers have a tiny fruit at their base. The other obvious signal that you have a female flower is a prominent stigma, which is the female reproductive organ; leave those to form into squash.

How Should You Store and Prep These Edible Flowers?

The intensely yellow blossoms are delicate and perishable, so eat them same day they are bought, or within a couple of days if you are harvesting your own and building up a supper-size stash. Until you eat them, keep them refrigerated in a covered container, free of moisture.

It's usually unnecessary to wash zucchini flowers but you may want to peek inside the folded petals in case they are hiding any trapped guests. Invite the guests to leave by shaking the flowers gently. Perhaps the most exquisite and desirable stage of the zucchini is when the yellow flower is still attached to the miniature, immature marrow. Those may need a careful rinse or a wipe with a damp cloth.

How to Cook Zucchini Blossoms

The simplest way to eat zucchini flowers is to snip them raw into an omelet as it cooks. They are delicate and complement the creamy eggs. Squash blossom risotto is another unique summer treat. We think the flowers are also a beautiful, seasonal finish atop a sizzling dish of basil and ricotta cannelloni. Then there's stuffed zucchini blossoms, which are worth the effort. Ricotta is a traditional filling, which can be gently flavored with parmesan or a little lemon zest. Fry the stuffed blossoms in batches in foaming butter. Want to go bold? Insert a salted anchovy inside your blossom before frying. Our fancy version of stuffed zucchini flowers is filled with Taleggio and basil, then served with a blackberry and balsamic reduction.

Another celebration of zucchini blossoms is to tempura them: dip them in our favorite batter and deep-fry the flowers in a neutral oil with a high smoke-point (we like avocado). Serve at once, with a wedge of lemon. And if you're lucky enough to snag those baby zucchinis still attached to their flowers, treat them as gently as possible. They cook fast, and are delicious steamed with a drizzle of good olive oil and flick of Maldon salt or added last-minute to summer stews just minutes before serving. You could also lay them whole on toasted sourdough rubbed lightly with a clove of garlic to make a summery bruschetta.

You can even eat zucchini blossoms for dessert. They are luscious sugared, but they're also a wonderful topping for our chocolate-zucchini sheet cake (or even ice cream). Come summer, yours will be a social media sensation.


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