Squash Vines and Blossoms

The winter squash vines sprawling their way into the adjacent corn beds in my kitchen garden carry newly formed squashes that won’t mature in time for harvest, so I pull off these tiny squashes and hope that I’m redirecting energy to the much bigger squashes nearer the center of the patch.  Who knew that I could also snip off the ends of these traveling vines, cook them up and eat them and help those maturing squash once again?  My favorite kitchen garden writer Barbara Damrosch knew and luckily for me she wrote about it in her Thursday Washington Post column A Cook’s Garden: “A different delicacy: Squash vine tips.”

For years a Thursday morning treat has been to log onto The Washington Post and read Damrosch’s column.  Perhaps you know her book The Garden Primer or perhaps you’ve read about her and her husband Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm in Maine (http://www.fourseasonfarm.com/).  Maybe you’re even a fan of her columns as I am.  If you haven’t read them, do.  Here’s the link to the squash vine column: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home-garden/a-different-delicacy-squash-vine-tips/2012/08/14/af580298-df5e-11e1-8d48-2b1243f34c85_story.html While you’re there, type Barbara Damrosch into the search box and you’ll link to her past columns.  Or click on this link for a selection of recent columns: http://www.washingtonpost.com/linksets/2010/07/06/ABrAs7D_linkset.html

Following her suggestion in this week’s column, I harvested a sampling of six-to-eight-inch long tips from the rambling vines of Buttercup, Delicata, Eastern Rise, Nutty Delica, and Potimarron.  The Delicata tips were softest while the Potimarron tips, which had also traveled the farthest, were a bit spiny along the stems and coarser across the leaves.  Curious about how each would taste, I cooked them separately, chopping each into inch or less pieces and steaming them in a little olive oil and water as Damrosch suggests.  The spiny, coarser tips took a little longer to cook and were less tender than the softer tips but all were ready to taste in five minutes or so.  They have a delicate, herbal squash flavor and would be perfect on pasta, in a frittata or simply as a side dish.  They’d also be a wonderful addition to that other squash part, the blossom.

There were lots of zucchini flowers blooming near the winter squash and I couldn’t resist gathering some for another kitchen experiment: fresh stuffed zucchini blossoms.  Last month, my favorite New York Times food writer Melissa Clark shared her recipe for this delicious variation on the classic fried zucchini blossom: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/dining/enjoying-zucchini-blossoms-without-cooking-a-good-appetite.html.  Her version is so much easier than the fried version and really features the delicate squash flavor of the blossoms while preserving their beautiful colors.  She suggests stuffing the fresh blossoms with soft goat cheese, ricotta, buffalo mozzarella or burrata, a very soft cheese made from mozzarella and heavy cream.  To the burrata stuffing she also added tapenade.  I had none of these fillings but I did have some very thick yogurt and some basil pesto.  Mixed together, these ingredients made a creamy, delicious filling, sharp from the yogurt and rich from the pesto.  The resulting stuffed blossoms were a beautiful hit.  I served them with a little pile of tasty sautéed Delicata vine tips.

I hadn’t used up the pile of zucchini blossoms so I turned to a second recent recipe, this one from another excellent recipe source, New York Times “Recipes for Health” writer Martha Rose Shulman.  She calls it Sabine’s Stuffed Zucchini Flowers: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/health/nutrition/sabines-stuffed-zucchini-flowers-recipes-for-health.html.  It’s almost as easy as Melissa Clark’s fresh stuffed zucchini blossoms.  The stuffing is a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs softened in milk, egg, sautéed onion, garlic and zucchini and fresh herbs.  The recipe describes how to fill the zucchini flowers with the stuffing, wrap the petals around the stuffing, lay the flowers in a baking dish and lightly brush them with olive oil.  They bake at 375 for thirty to forty minutes and come out lightly browned and beautiful.  I’ll definitely try this baking technique again though next time for filling I think I’ll use sautéed squash vines instead of zucchini. It seems like a perfect way to wrap vines and blossoms into the same dish.