By Chef Judi Gallagher.
You know what they say about April showers bringing May flowers, but truth is that edible flowers are in bloom in April in many parts of the country and are ready now to be plucked for recipes. Roman, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures have all used edible flowers in cooking and as garnish for artistic presentations. Although many flowers are edible, many are not; some are poisonous, so when in doubt about the culinary possibilities of a posy, check with your local extension service.
Unopened blossoms tend to be bitter so to select your edible beauties as you would a bouquet. Although some flowers can conveniently be dried and used in cooking similar to using an herb, I find using fresh pansies, nasturtiums, petunias and zucchini flowers safe choices for springtime flavor enhancements.
Zucchini blossoms are scrumptious when stuffed and deep fried. Use the male flowers (they are bigger) and decide if the stuffed flowers are the main course or a side. These splendid and lovely blossoms can be stuffed with ricotta cheese and olives or scented rice for a side dish. Or pack them with minced chicken, herbs and cheese for a main course that would be a splendid way to welcome Spring.
My favorite salad flower is the pansy. I use a colorful mix of pansies in a simple warm-weather salad enlivened with goat cheese and blackberry honey. Edible flowers are fragile, so pick the pansies just before you are ready to use them. Grow your pansies in a semi-shaded area near your herb garden and give them enough water or they will droop and perish.
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Simple Spring Salad with Goat Cheese and Blackberry Honey Drizzle
4 cups organic field greens, washed
½ pint fresh blueberries or blackberries
1 pound fresh chevre (Haystack Mountain goat cheese is a favorite)
2 granny smith apples, sliced thin
1 handful of Marcona Spanish almonds
4 teaspoons of strawberry or blackberry honey (to drizzle over goat cheese and almonds)
1-2 dozen fresh pansies
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
light olive oil that is fresh and fruity
Toss greens with salt and pepper to season. Add lemon juice, fig vinegar and a light drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle in berries and gently toss. On an oblong serving dish or bamboo platter, arrange the dressed greens in the center. Arrange three slices of goat cheese, slightly overlapping and sprinkle with salty Spanish Marcona almonds. Drizzle with fruit honey. On opposite side, fan granny smith apples slices. Arrange edible pansies on greens and to the side of goat cheese and almonds. Serve with a simple French Sancere wine
and a slim and crusty baguette.