Wednesday, June 16, 2010

beautiful edible things from the ballard farmers market

Sunday is market day at the Ballard Farmers Market.  This year-round market is the cream of the crop, featuring a host of local and organic farmers as well as cheese makers, fish mongers, butchers, bakers, and purveyors of handmade goods.  Food vendors offer up gourmet street fare while sidewalk musicians fill the air with their lively melodies.  In warmer months, a smattering of nurseries fill stalls with all varieties of herbs and edible plants.  Especially enticing are the potted strawberries and tomatoes, beckoning even the most reluctant gardener with the allure of ruby fruit beneath cheery green leaves.

Although I aspire to arrive at the market replete with culinary aplomb and canvas tote in hand, this is not often the case.  Sundays are for meandering, for throwing itineraries to the wayside.  I relish each hour of the day as though I were Cinderella at the ball, knowing the party will end with the stroke midnight.  Come Sunday evening, my remaining glass slipper is the memory of a day filled with the simple, inadvertent pleasures of living in the moment.

Last Sunday, my family and  I made our way to the Ballard market after brunching at nearby Hi-Life and stopping for coffee at Caffe Fiore.  We walked along in the shade of historic stone buildings before stepping out in the street where the market begins.  The sun greeted us like a spotlight on a movie set.  In fact, the entire scene felt surreal.  The hum of the crowd was punctuated by the sound of a fiddle, its playful notes dancing on the soft breeze.  We made our way down the sunny side of the street, stopping for a whiff of intoxicating peonies, considering organic strawberry plants and scanning a butcher’s chalkboard heralding an impressive selection of  grass-fed meats.  We rounded the corner and passed stall after stall overflowing with organic produce, the brightly colored fruits and vegetables all shouting, “hallelujah, summer is finally upon us!”

My gaze immediately fell upon the contents of a small cellophane bag.  Inside was a handful of yellowish orange twisty squash blossoms.  Also known as zucchini flowers, the blossoms share a season with the zucchini from which they sprout.  Once harvested, they are extremely perishable and must be eaten straight away.  I had long desired to bring these edible blooms into my kitchen and happily made my first purchase of the day.  The sack of eight blossoms cost a reasonable $2.50.  I intended to adapt a recipe from my favorite Jamie Oliver cookbook for stuffing the blossoms with ricotta and mint.  ‘Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life’ features simple and delicious recipes, organized by season, with emphasis on garden fresh produce.  

Onward to local cheese vendor, Mt. Townsend Creamery.  Their award winning cheeses pair beautifully with the crusty loaves of bread from Tall Grass Bakery, a few stalls down.  This time, I had my sights set on their fromage blanc.  I tasted a sample and was at once struck by the choreographed trio of tastes, beginning with tangy, moving on to salty and finally, a sweet creamy finish.  With just a tad less moisture than ricotta, this soft white cheese would seamlessly take its place.  

Back at home, I reviewed the recipe and gathered ingredients.  My amenable husband headed to our neighborhood market for a lemon and a bottle of white, for the tempura.  He returned with a  2009 pinot gris from NWVP (Northwest Vine Project), in Oregon.  The wine was sweet and fruity with dried apricot overtones, a hint of pineapple and a crisp finish.  It would pair nicely with the bright flavors in the recipe.
The ingredients for the filling included fresh mint, red chilies, lemon zest, parmesan reggiano, fromage blanc, nutmeg and sea salt.  The simple tempura consisted of flour and white wine.  The hardest part was unfurling the delicate petals of the blossoms without tearing them.  Some splitting was inevitable but I managed keep the blooms relatively intact.  After creating an opening, I reached in and pinched off the bitter stamen(fig. 1).  After discarding two wilted blooms, six remained.  I stuffed each blossom with the fromage blanc mixture and closed the petals to seal in the filling (figs. 2 & 3).  Using tongs, I dipped each blossom in the batter fig. 4) and bathed it in about 2 inches of hot oil (350°F), flipping once, until golden (fig. 5).  Finished with a sprinkle of chopped mint, squeeze of lemon and a pinch of sea salt, the result was akin to a foodies’ take on the jalapeno popper (fig. 6).
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Initially, I found the notion of ‘flowers as food’ more intriguing than appetizing; a culinary daring of sorts with no intention of adding crispy stuffed squash blossoms to my repertoire.  I reconsidered as I sunk my teeth into the crispy exterior, the flavors within awakening my mouth with cool mint, sunny lemon, and piquant chili, contrasted by the warmth of salty, tangy fromage blanc.  It was the essence of the garden mingled with savory cheese filling, all wrapped up in a tiny golden oblong package.  Delicious. 

crispy squash blossoms with fromage blanc and fresh mint 

serves 2-4 starters


6 oz. fromage blanc, fresh ricotta or chevre
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 small bunch of finely chopped fresh mint, leaves only
1 red chili or jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, and finely chopped
coarse sea salt (maldon or fleur de sel work well)
1/2 cup flour
1 cup white wine such as pinot gris
8 fresh squash blossoms, also called zucchini flowers
canola oil or extra light olive oil 
1 lemon (can be same one used for zest)


In a small bowl, combine first six ingredients, reserving a bit of mint for garnish.  Taste and season carefully with coarse sea salt.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, wine and a pinch of salt until thick like heavy cream.  If it’s too thick, add more wine.  If too thin, add more water.  If you dip your finger in the batter, it should nicely coat it.

Gently, open the squash blossoms, taking care to keep them as intact as possible.  Pinch off the stamen, inside, as it tastes bitter.

Carefully fill the flowers with the cheese mixture, pressing the petals back together to form a seal around the filling.

Heat about two inches of oil to 350 degrees, using a thermometer to gauge temperature.  Turn on the kitchen fan and have a plate nearby with a layer of paper towels. 

Use tongs to dip the stuffed blossoms in the batter, one at a time, allowing the excess to drip off.  Use the tongs to place them in the hot oil.  Never drop them into the oil.  Watch for the edges to turn golden and turn once, using tongs.  Remove from oil with tongs and place on paper towels.  Repeat.  Two may be fried at the same time but be careful so they don’t stick together.  I prefer frying one at a time.  Place on serving plate and finish a squeeze of lemon, remaining chopped mint and coarse sea salt.  Eat them while they’re hot!

Delicious paired with a crisp, fruity white such as pinot gris

adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver

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