You know what's disappointing? Clipping a recipe Nine Whole Years Ago (9!), saving it meticulously for Just The Right Occasion, finally getting to That Blessed Moment, and realizing that the recipe is A Total Dud. D. U. D.
Oh! There was so much potential. First of all, the recipe came from Molly O'Neill, back when she had a column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Illustrious provenance, for sure. Second of all, it involved whole fish, Greek yogurt, red lentils, and marjoram, roasted in the oven. I know! Does that sound good, or what? Third of all, I'd been saving it for nine years. That's practically a third of my life! That number alone should have guaranteed deliciousness, I think.
But instead, after smearing yogurt all over a bunch of fish (red snapper because there was no striped bass to be found), stuffing them with marjoram and garlic, salting and peppering them well, arranging them on a (perplexing) bed of cooked red lentils, and roasting those suckers until they were crispy and browned, all they ended up tasting like was...nothing.
Now if you know anything about red lentils, you'll know that once they're cooked, they look nothing like their cute, coral selves from the package. They turn into a pallid yellow mush that one of my friends kind enough to share the meal last night actually likened to baby poop. (Oops! I swore to myself last night I wouldn't reference that on this website. I think I might have had too much to drink last night, too.) Now, of course, they can taste rather nice, provided they've been cooked with something, like minced onions and tomatoes and curry powder, or, I dunno, a few sweet potatoes and ginger. But just boiled? Boiled red lentils? Taste like nothing. Roasted in the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit? Nothing, crisped.
Then there's the matter of the Greek yogurt. What on earth did smearing it on and in the fish do? I still don't know. The fish sure didn't taste like the yogurt. In fact, once the fish were done, you could barely even see the yogurt anymore. It's like it evaporated into thin air! Or into very hot oven air. As for the eight whole garlic cloves and twelve sprigs of marjoram? I don't know if you'll believe me, but you must: I couldn't taste any of it. And I don't have a cold, either. The fish tasted like...red snapper. Roasted in the oven. Plain. As in, PLAIN. So it was edible, I guess, but oh, so disappointing.
Very luckily for all of us at dinner last night, my friend Betsy had the eminently sensible idea of overruling me at the market a few days earlier (I said they'd be too much work. Readers, I am a fool!) and buying a big package of zucchini flowers, which she stuffed with mozzarella and a dab or two of olive paste and fried into crispy, crunchy, golden deliciousness. With a cool glass of Sancerre, they made for a far better dinner.
Okay, so a quick recipe for those of you who have yet to fry your own zucchini blossoms:
Buy a bunch of fresh zucchini blossoms from an organic farmer so you don't have to worry too much about washing off chemicals. They should not be wilted or browned, but rather look like they were just picked, all vibrant with color. Buy a nice, firm mozzarella. This is not the time for bufala, which is too wet and milky. If you want to be totally traditional, buy some salted anchovies. If not, get a bit of olive paste, also known as tapenade. Oh, and you'll need some nice flaky salt, a few eggs, a plate of flour, and a couple of inches of frying oil (you can use olive oil, but not extra-virgin, or just regular vegetable oil).
Pour the oil into a saute pan with sides, like this one, to the height of one or two inches. Check the blossoms to make sure they're clean and brush off any dirt you might see. Cut the mozzarella into little batons. Rinse the anchovies and cut them in half, if you're using them. Beat 2 eggs in a shallow dish, and pour flour into another dish. Working with one blossom at a time, gently open the blossom end and push in a baton of mozzarella. Then slide in half an anchovy, or a small spoonful of olive paste. Twist the top of the blossom shut. Repeat with the remaining blossoms. Turn the heat on under the pan and while the oil heats up, dip each blossom in the egg to coat, making sure the top of the blossom remains twisted shut, and then dip it in the flour to coat. Repeat with as many blossoms as you'd like to prepare (as an appetizer, consider two or three per person).
When the oil is hot but not smoking (you can gently drop something into the oil to test if it's hot enough - if it is, it'll start fizzing and frying), gently slip the battered blossoms into the oil. Don't crowd the pan (the 10-incher we used last night fit five blossoms at a time). Fry for three to four minutes on each side, turning only once with tongs. While the blossoms fry, line a few plates with some layered paper towels. When the blossoms are golden brown on both sides, remove them to the paper towels. Sprinkle them with flaky salt and eat them immediately. Well, wait a minute so you don't burn the roof of your mouth, but not more than that. (Oh, and make sure you have a glass of nice, cold white wine nearby.) I think you'll find they're difficult to stop eating and not nearly as much work as you think they are.
Oh, wait, one more thing. If you often find yourself wondering (which I'm sure you do, right?) what on earth I eat on those days when I'm not slaving away in the kitchen or munching on fried zucchini blossoms, head on over to Gourmet.com (!), where I talk with the lovely Sari Lehrer about rancid butter, Canadian yogurt, the glory that is Mexican salsa verde, and the cheapest meal in New York City.