I adore squash (or zucchini) blossoms. Last year, I even planted some zucchini in an effort to have my own supply. I was not successful. Fortunately, the farmers market here has a vendor or two that sell the blossoms, though they are often claimed early by restaurant chefs. But that’s the beauty of getting to know the farmers – they will put a few aside for you if you ask politely! During the whole season, I buy a little box of blossoms, dip them in a light batter and fry them up. Almost every Saturday in summer, that’s my lunch. I always plan to expand my horizons, but I love them fried crispy so much, I usually eat them all up before I have a chance to experiment.
But when the first blossoms arrived at the market this year, I bought a double batch. I had seen a recipe for a squash blossom pasta sauce I wanted to try. When I read it again, however, I realized it required a pound of blossoms. The boxes I buy hold one ounce, and I doubt I could convince a farmer to sell me all his blossoms. So I planned to fry them up again and as I gently worked to pull out the stamens, I suddenly wondered how they would work as a pesto. I was a little reluctant to sacrifice my blossoms to an experiment, but my curiosity won the day. I simple converted my standard pesto recipe, with the addition of saffron from the abandoned sauce recipe, and magic! A vivid orange sauce, nutty with parmesan and pine nuts with this mysterious undernote. Squash blossoms. I have to say, this really felt like one of my moments of kitchen genius.
There are very few ingredients in this recipe, so each one needs to really shine. Use a quality, real Italian Parmigiano cheese. If you buy it in a block, just grind it up in the food processor before you start the rest of the recipe. I like a quality olive oil, but not a green, extra virgin which can be too strong and overpower the blossoms. This pesto is amazing over a thin pasta like linguine, or with some gnocchi. Try it spread on a pizza base with topped with some thinly sliced squash and zucchini, or as a spread on bruschetta. If you don’t regularly see squash blossoms at the farmers market, ask any vendor that sells squash or zucchini if they will provide you with some next time around.
Squash Blossom Pesto
3 Tablespoons pine nuts
2 Tablespoons very hot water
A pinch of saffron threads
2 cups loosely packed squash blossoms, about 12 blooms
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano cheese
½ cup lightly flavored olive oil
Pinch of salt
In a dry skillet over medium, lightly toast the pine nuts until they start smell nutty and are lightly golden. Watch them carefully so they do not get dark brown or burn. Transfer to a kitchen towel and set aside to cool.
Pour the 2 Tablespoons of hot water over the saffron in a small bowl and leave to steep.
Pull the stamens out of the center of the squash blossoms and pinch off any hard stems or green leaves at the base. Lightly pull the blossoms apart and measure 2 loosely packed cups. Drop the blossoms in a food processor and pulse 2 – 3 times to break them up. Add the nuts, the cheese and the saffron with its water and pulse until everything is roughly chopped. Turn the machine on, and drizzle the olive oil in slowly. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. When all the oil is incorporated, add a pinch of salt to taste. If your cheese is salty, be sparing with extra salt.
Transfer the pesto to an airtight container and drizzle a very thin layer of olive oil over the surface. This version does not oxidize and turn black the way basil pesto does, so it only needs a bit of oil on top. Store the pesto in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Makes about ½ cup