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 V.13 No.30 | July 22 - 28, 2004 

Dining In

Birth Control for Squash Plants: Their Loss is Our Gain

Shrimp mousseline-stuffed squash blossoms

If you've ever grown zucchini in your garden then you know how prolific squash plants are. They just keep growing and growing and growing. It seems every time you blink there's another squash the size of a loaf of Wonder Bread lurking under an umbrella-sized leaf. It can be hard to keep up with them. One method is to pluck the blossoms before a squash can grow or when the blossom is still attached to a finger-sized baby squash. The blossoms can be tossed into salads, stirred into simmering soups or chopped and added to pancake or crêpe batter. They can also be stuffed and then either poached or battered and deep fried.

The French quenelle is a light dumpling made of ground meat or fish, formed into small football shapes and poached in broth; they are often served in soups. The mixture used to make quenelles, called mousseline, is also used as a filling for rolled fish filets. In this recipe, the mousseline batter is used to fill squash blossoms which are then steamed. The result is a fancier-than-usual dumpling that looks like it has been wrapped in a bright golden gauze.

In the olden days, quenelles and mousselines were made by mashing the meat or fish into a paste with a mortar and pestle. It was a hell of a lot of work so they were considered special occasion foods. Now that a food processor can do nearly all of the work for us, making this dish is actually fairly easy. So, unless you're starring on a PBS reality show called “1800s Kitchen” then you will absolutely need a food processor for this recipe.

If you're not growing squash in your yard, chances are that someone you know is overwhelmed by plants. Ask among your friends or look for blossoms at farmers markets. You can also buy them from Fresh Herbs Inc., formerly known as B. Riley, (Juan Tabo and Copper, 275-0902) where they sell the blossoms for 38 cents each. Before stuffing them, be sure to check for trapped ants and bees.

A pastry bag will make stuffing the blossoms easy but you can also use a large zippered storage bag. Fill the bag with the mousseline and snip off 1/4 inch of one of the bottom corners of the bag. Squeeze the mixture through the hole in the bag; it works pretty well.

Once the blossoms are done, you can use them to garnish a simple tomato, corn or fresh pea soup. You can also serve them as appetizers with a saffron aïoli or a mellow salsa.

Incidentally, this is the same method used to make the Vietnamese dish known as sugarcane shrimp. Simply add 1 teaspoon of sugar, 3 cloves of garlic and 1 teaspoon of fish sauce to the mousseline mixture. After chilling, make balls of the shrimp mixture and pierce them with peeled sugarcane sticks (look for sugarcane at Talin Market on Louisiana and Central). Steam them for 10 minutes; then, just before serving, grill until golden brown.

Shrimp mousseline-stuffed squash blossoms

This project will be much easier if you can gather together a food processor, pastry bag and bamboo steamer.

Ingredients:

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

3 shallots, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup heavy cream

15-20 freshly picked squash blossoms

Instructions:

1) Combine shrimp, shallots and salt in the workbowl of your food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a paste.

2) Add egg white and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse to combine.

3) With the processor running, add cream in a thin stream.

4) Scrape mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

5) Prepare the squash blossoms. Using a paring knife, cut the bottom 1/2 inch off of the stem end of each blossom. As you pull it off, the flower's pollen-covered stamens should come with it.

6) Transfer the shrimp mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip (or no tip at all if the bag's opening is relatively small). Pipe shrimp paste into each blossom until it is full but not bursting.

7) Place the filled blossoms on the trays of a bamboo steamer and steam over simmering water for 10 minutes.

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