Early on midsummer mornings, city nonnas descend to tend their gardens. Some attack a plot of land “out front,” or in an area way, separated from the sidewalk by a short fence. Others wade through a mass of vegetables and flowers surrounding a fig tree blooming in their backyards.

They hurry because squash blossoms are in bloom. To get the maximum flavor and freshness out of the short-season flowers, the nonnas must pick them as soon as they open, wash them, prepare them, and serve them the same evening. And gathering the flowers in their front aprons, instead of a basket or bowl, assures the nonnas that they are babying the blossoms.

As a nonna plucks each open bud, she keeps an eye on the nonna on the other side of the fence who is picking blossoms in her own garden. The morning progresses, and the results of the bounty caught in an apron turn into a contest. Bragging rights fall into three categories: who has picked the most, whose flowers are the largest, and–prize of prizes–whose flowers have a glorious teeny, tiny green zucchini attached to the bloom.

The serious work of cleaning the flowers begins as each nonna enters her apartment, places the flowers in a pristine kitchen sink and begins to douse each with super-cold water, so cold, she has to wipe her reddened hands on a towel every few minutes. When she wraps the flowers in kitchen towels and refrigerates them, the nonna dusts off her hands and steps outdoors.

She and the others set up their folding chairs near the curb. After greeting one another, they get around to the morning’s significant results. One says offhandedly, “I picked, oh, about a dozen, and they were big–perfect for stuffing.”

“You know,” says another, “if they’re too big, they’re bitter.” The others nod and raise their eyebrows to avoid reminding her that what she’s saying isn’t true. “The eight I picked are medium-size, but one has a tiny zucchini attached.” She sighs contentedly and crosses her hands in the bib of her front apron.

“I didn’t have much luck today,” says the third nonna. The others cluck sympathetically as they fight the urge to grin.”I picked nine, very small; maybe I should have left them for tomorrow.”

“Well, you can’t stuff them,” says one, sounding satisfied.

“No, but I can put them in the frittata I’m serving tonight when Father Angelo comes to dinner.”

The clout of the clergy visiting for dinner silences them. Finally, one says, “Did you listen to Jack Benny on Sunday night?”

All talk of zucchini blossoms is ended for the day. The frittata cook smiles gently. Defying all the odds, she has won the contest.

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Serves four

  • 12 to 14 zucchini blossoms, washed, stems and core removed, thoroughly dried
  • 2 pounds whole milk ricotta
  • 1 pound whole milk mozzarella, diced
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • Zucchini attached to blossom, finely diced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Coarse salt to taste
  1. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except blossoms, olive oil, and coarse salt.
  2. Stuff each blossom generously with filling.
  3. Heat a large, broad skillet over medium heat; add olive oil.
  4. Gently lower a few blossoms at a time into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan.
  5. Saute blossoms about 5 minutes on each side, turning carefully.
  6. Remove blossoms to paper-towel lined platter; sprinkle with coarse salt immediately. Serve.

Zucchini Blossom Frittata

Serves four

  • 6 to 8 zucchini blossoms, washed, stems and core removed, thoroughly dried
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, coarsely grated
  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat a large, broad skillet over medium heat; add olive oil.
  3. Gently lower the blossoms into the hot oil.
  4. Saute blossoms about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in shallots; saute blossom-shallot mixture until shallots brown slightly
  6. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Add pinch of salt to beaten eggs; pour eggs over zucchini mixture.
  8. Reduce heat to low
  9. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to work eggs away from the side of the pan.
  10. When the edges of the omelet are cooked; sprinkle cheese over it.
  11. Place  skillet about 5 inches under broiler; watch carefully
  12. When cheese is melted and golden and omelet is cooked through, remove to serving platter.
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One Response to The War of the Flowers

  1. […] has a wonderful recipe for stuffed squash blossoms. It’s that time of year (at least here in California). I’ve started seeing the lovely […]

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