The artichoke globe is a flower, as are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and asparagus. At what point does it become a vegetable? Who cares. The idea is that we eat flowers regularly. Good flavors are important. So are whimsy, beauty and fun. True, there are food fashions that slip into and out of favor, flavor and savor. The eating of more delicate and colorful flowers appears to have come and gone from table consciousness multiple times. Yet the trend-immune saffron, part of a crocus flower, remains the world’s most expensive spice. It’s time to raise our flower awareness and add these gorgeous blooms to our pantries.
Artistic French chefs have found new palates to tempt with molded custards adorned in colorful petals. Candied violets have decorated pastries and cakes since sugar was the reserve of the wealthy. The Italians have been selectively pinching off zucchini and pumpkin blossoms for eons, then filling those blossoms with rice and cheese, coating them with a light batter and sautéing them quickly at a high temperature as a delicacy of the season. Pea tendrils, pea flowers and lemongrass pair tang and sophistication in a Vietnamese shrimp stir-fry. Chamomile tea made of the daisy-like flower remains popular as a nerve-calming restorative, a soother of minor digestive disorders and a sleep aid.
Look at your garden with fresh eyes. Calendula not only flavors but richly colors molded rice dishes. Nasturtiums add a peppery zest and a brightly tinted prospect to any green salad. Perk up your gazpacho with the divided flowers of chives.* Add a couple of daylily buds to your shrimp stir-fry and garnish the dish with an opened flower.** If you’re a cook who has to produce not only flavor but a beautiful plate as well, make a large round ravioli and place a dark pansy under the thin top layer of pasta dough. The result is fit for empresses. Sprinkle a few deep red, minty Bee Balm petals atop vanilla ice cream. Have a good time.
Today’s recipe is for Roasted Plums with Black Pansy Syrup couples the intensified flavor of roasted fruit with a dollop of ice cream and a delicate syrup crowned with pansies and Johnny-Jump-Ups. It’s one of those dinner party desserts that look deceptively like you slaved all day.