Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

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From Memorial Day to Labor Day, my company offers us “summer Fridays” where I get to leave work at 1pm every single Friday. These half days are such a gift. In past years, I would take advantage of this early start to the weekend by making as many plans as possible. Take a trip one weekend, go on a jam-packed adventure with friends another week. If I didn’t have something to do, I felt uncool, almost as if I were less worthy as a person.

Why does society perpetuate the stigma of being alone? There’s a general pressure, especially for women, to avoid being alone. Loneliness isn’t “becoming.” Blah, blah, blah. This negative view towards being alone and spending time by yourself, with yourself, does nothing but increase feelings of shame and cause an obsession with being busy, occupied.

This year has taught me many lessons. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it is not only okay, but necessary to spend time with yourself. This is an act of self care. The act of being with yourself, taking yourself out on a date, puts into practice the idea that you can be alone and also be okay.

I’ve been listening to the Dear Sugars podcast lately, and I listened to an episode about loneliness and women who worry they will never find “the one.” They spoke with writer Kate Bolick, who referenced this beautiful line from Edith Wharton:

“I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity—to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone.”

YAS, Edith Wharton!

Spending time alone is not an easy task for me, so I challenged myself this year to use my summer Fridays as my “me” time. The farmers market is open down the street on Friday afternoons, so I like to take my time, walk around to all the booths, and compare the quality and pricing of the produce offered. Then, I start to plan potential meal options in my head for the weekend based on the fruits and vegetables that look best. I’ll have conversations with the farmers, who give me their recommendations. It’s really quite thrilling for me to do this! The produce is so incredibly, achingly beautiful to me. I’m passionate about home grown fruits and veggies, okay?!

A few weeks ago I spotted a gorgeous pint of baby heirloom tomatoes from Atlas Farms. I knew that baby tomatoes were the way to go because this year larger heirloom tomatoes are late (we’ve had a colder August here in New England). I then grabbed a luscious bunch of basil from MacArthur Farm, and I had the makings of the most bomb caprese salad:

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I made garlic toast with whole wheat sourdough bread I bought from the Iggy’s stand, and I enjoyed this dinner by myself, for myself. My heart felt happy and free.

I also stopped by the Siena Farms stand in hopes that I would find squash blossoms. At first, I didn’t see any. Then, in a moment of pure serendipity, one of the farmers pulled out a bucket of them. I had my squee moment, then eagerly went up to him and asked for six.

squash blossoms
Aren’t they gorgeous?

He asked me how I like to cook them. I told him, the whole reason why I knew you could eat squash blooms is because I watched an episode of Jamie at Home one day, and he was making Crispy Courgette Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint. The light crispiness of the tempura batter and the warm, bright, yet rich filling within the delicate flower seemed like heaven to me. I wanted to learn how to adapt this recipe and make it for myself. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Tempura Squash Blossoms with Ricotta, Chile, Mint, and Lemon Zest

  • 6 squash (or zucchini) blossoms

Filling

  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper OR 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh red chile pepper
  • 6 mint leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (I would start with 1/4 teaspoon each)

Tempura Batter

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup seltzer water (if you don’t have seltzer water on hand, you can use beer or white wine, something with fizz!)
  • a pinch of salt
  1. First, you’ll need to remove the pistil from the blossom (this is the part of the flower that gathers all the pollen). Gently open the blossom with you fingers and, with a pair of slender scissors or kitchen shears, snip off the pistil.
  2. Squash blossoms are delicate, so do not run them under the faucet! My suggestion is to fill a bowl with water and then place the squash blossoms in the bowl. This process gently washes them and helps get rid of excess pollen and dirt. Once washed, place the blossoms on a paper towel to dry.
  3. For the filling, place the ricotta, lemon zest, mint, and chili in a bowl. Mix together, then add salt and pepper to your taste.
  4. Fill a plastic bag with the ricotta filling. With kitchen shears, snip off a corner of the plastic bag. This will serve as your piping bag to fill the squash blossoms.
  5. Gently open your squash blooms and pipe the filling in. Don’t worry if filling overflows, it will get covered with tempura batter anyways!
  6. Then, in a separate bowl, add your flour, salt, and seltzer water. Mix together so the batter is thick (it should stick to your spoon). If the batter is too thin, add more flour. If too thick, add more seltzer. It’s quite simple!
  7. Before you do anything else, add canola oil (or the oil of your choosing, coconut oil/flaxseed oil/grapeseed oil will work, too) to your skillet and turn on the heat to medium high. You want the blossoms to sizzle when they hit the oil.
  8. Dip your squash blossoms into the tempura batter, coating all surfaces (but not too thickly).
  9. Once your oil is heated, place your squash blossoms in the oil. You’ll need to turn the blossoms a few times so that all sides are properly fried.
  10. Once the blossoms turn golden brown, take them out of the pan and place them onto a plate with a paper towel so any excess oil can drain.

I encourage you to take time for yourself each day, and even schedule full days just for yourself. Recharge, honor yourself with a good meal sourced from the farmers market, read your favorite book, write, spend time outdoors. You’ll come to find that kind of solitude will leave you more open to the world, and the world will open itself up to you in return.

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The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, where do I begin? Prose does not suffice.

Ode to Tomato Sauce by Kristina DeMichele

Garlic simmering, tomato paste hissing as it hits hot olive oil.

Footsteps running, tripping down the stairs to help squeeze the abundant juices of fresh tomatoes into the pot.

Fingers ripping basil into pieces, aroma emanating from the leaf.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, shake-shake-shaking into the mixture, seasoning.

Wooden spoon so large its called “Big Papi,” stirring ingredients together.

This is what it means to cook tomato sauce.


If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be pasta and tomato sauce. Could I ever get tired of it? Never! As a little girl, some of my best memories in the kitchen are with my Dad, squeezing tomatoes in my hands, ripping pieces of basil into the pot. To my knowledge, there was one particular sauce-making session where I, kneeling on my stool with face parallel to liquid, sneezed directly into the sauce. My Dad still cooked that sauce up, though I’m sure it tasted a little bit like “Kristina.” When I make this sauce myself, it only takes the scent of the garlic in olive oil or the aroma of the basil to bring me back to my childhood kitchen. My great grandmother, Nonnie Ricca, created this recipe. With every batch of sauce I create, I feel that unmistakable connection to her, too.

I’ll be linking to this post frequently, as I’m about to share with you my family’s simple, yet delicious tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

Yield: 2-4 servings

  • olive oil (enough to create a .25 inch depth in your pot)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of Pastene or Cento crushed, ground, or “kitchen ready” tomatoes (or 1 can ground tomatoes, 1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste, if using whole peeled tomatoes (use a whole can if making the recipe larger)
  • a bunch of fresh basil or frozen fresh basil (use as much as you want, but be sure you include at least a generous handful)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste

1. Take out a medium-large pot and fill the pot with olive oil, enough so that the oil is about .25 inches deep.

2. Then, peel your garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Turn on your burner to medium heat and put your garlic cloves into the pot with olive oil. Allow the oil to warm up and wait for those garlic cloves to sizzle. Now, you need to watch the garlic carefully. Wait until the garlic cloves become light brown in color, and then take them out with a slotted spoon. Tip: You can save these garlic cloves for another dish, or you can chop up this garlic and add it to the sauce later. My sister does this!

3. Turn off the heat and place the pot onto an unused burner.

  • If you are using whole peeled tomatoes, this is when you will insert your tomato paste. Taking care of the hot oil, place the tomato paste gently into the pot (do not let the paste just “plop” into the pot, you will burn yourself). Stir the paste around for about 30-45 seconds.
  • If you are using two cans of kitchen ready tomatoes, then you will not use tomato paste.
Look for this can!

4. Open your cans of tomatoes. Pour the kitchen ready tomatoes directly into the pot. You can always rinse out the can with a little water. Do not add too much water, though, as this will thin out your sauce. If using whole tomatoes, take each tomato, break it apart into pieces with your hands, and add these pieces to the pot (this was my favorite part as a kid)! Add the extra liquid from the can in the sauce.

5. Now, take your basil and wash it all in a colander. Pick each basil leaf off of the stem and rip the basil into pieces with your hands. If you cut the basil with a knife, the basil will bruise. Not so pretty. Place these ripped pieces into the pot. Enjoy the aroma!

6. To season the sauce, all you need is what I call the “spice trifecta” – salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This is where I tell you to eyeball it. You can do it! Add enough of these seasonings to cover the liquid in a thin layer, and add enough seasoning for you. It’s better to err on the side of caution and add more later than to add too much at first.

7. Mix these beautiful ingredients together. Put the sauce back on medium heat and let the mixture come to a soft boil. Let the lid rest on the pot, but do not completely close it. You can also take the lid off the pot if you need your sauce mixture to come thicker. Stir the sauce at least every 10 minutes. Let the sauce cook for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the amount of sauce you make and the desired thickness/richness you wish to have.

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)
The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)

There you have it! This particular recipe is good for 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you all are. You are encouraged to multiply this recipe and make a big batch for yourself. Leftovers are the best to freeze and have later!

Tips:

  • We have a massive garden in my Ohio home affectionately called “Fort DeMichele.” Our tomato and basil crop resides there. If you can grow and crush your own tomatoes, what a treat! The tomato sauce comes out all the sweeter.
  • When fresh basil is hard to find in the later fall and winter, buy or grow lots of fresh basil and freeze it in ziploc bags. When you make sauce in winter, just crush the frozen basil in the bag with your hands and pour it into the sauce.
  • For grated cheese, use pecorino romano. The flavor is a little saltier and possesses much more of a bite than parmesano reggiano. You can certainly use parmesano reggiano, but you will have a nuttier, more subtle flavor than if you use pecorino romano.

Plain tomato sauce is an amazing base for several recipes. In forthcoming posts, I will detail how to add meat to the sauce and how to use this sauce in other recipes. For now, try making this tomato sauce! Comment with thoughts, questions, or even results of your own.