According to my friend Anna, fried zucchini blossoms are a Mexican thing. She tells me this as I stand in her doorway, exasperated and a bit confused, relaying what I fear will be an afternoon disaster. "I am attempting my first fried delicate flower," I tell her, in hopes that saying will turn to believing.
The truth is, I have never been good with cooking experiments of a delicate nature. Where the loose, basic principles of the kitchen are important, I move about with ease. But when it comes to precision—to the instant, say, of protecting the kid-glove shape of a delicate flower—I tend to become overzealous. I pinch off a petal or dip too deep, and the yellow blossoms crumple into a brown, rumpled mess.
Still, taste rarely fails, and so on Anna's suggestion I make my way home to find out what Mexican cuisine has to offer. Thankfully, the stalwart cooks of the south aren't too keen on precision, either. Instead, they favor frying the blossoms with hot peppers and onions, and sandwiching the whole fiasco with queso fresco into a piping hot quesadilla.
With delicacy pushed aside, I get to work. I pull out a good heap of onions, hot orange peppers, smoky cherry tomatoes, and several cloves of garlic. The knife flies across the board, slicing and dicing and mincing until my eyes begin to well and olive oil fries hot in the pan. I drop onions then garlic, cherry tomatoes and peppers onto the cast iron and stir carefully before adding the final ingredient.
I'd collected the last of the blossoms—males only, with no squash before their stem—that afternoon. Ten in all, they hit the pan wide eyed with a start before beginning to soften. Soon form yields to heat, and I leave the mixture to cool beside a mound of grated Cabot cheddar. When the steam has subsided, I toss the two together and spoon it evenly across ten flat tortillas.
Folded and sealed, they sizzle in remnants of hot oil and the dark heat of the griddle. Cheese melts into blossoms, and they emerge, sweet, crisp, and—some might even say—delicate.
QUESADILLAS DE FLOR DE CALABAZA
Makes 10 small quesadillas
Adapted from a recipe said to have originated at El Bodegon del Guillermo, a popular Tijuana restaurant that burned to the ground in 1978.
Fry 1/2 white onion and 1 clove minced garlic in several tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Add 10 halved cherry tomatoes and cook until soft. Add 10 squash blossoms, 1 minced hot pepper, and salt and pepper to taste, and cook several more minutes. Spoon into a bowl and let sit until cool.
Toss with 6 ounces grated cheddar, and spoon evenly onto one side of each of 10 small flour tortillas. Fold tortillas over; fry in hot oil, flipping once, until tortillas are crisp and cheese melts. Eat hot.