In April, when I first visited Linton’s, the new restaurant nestled among the lush landscapes of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, I was quickly taken by the beauty of the dishes executive chef Jason Paolini was creating there.
The plates were bright and bold with color and texture, garnished with flowers freshly plucked from the edible garden located steps from Linton’s kitchen.
“We want the food to be as beautiful as the environment,” Paolini told me.“The way that we plate is always going to be artful.”
What I didn’t realize, at first, was that the flowers were adding flavor, too. Sometimes it was a subtle hint, sometimes a spicy or citrusy burst. But it was always surprising.
A few months later, I asked Paolini if he would come up with a few recipes to illustrate how home cooks might use edible flowers and blossoms from their own gardens or local farmers markets.
The chef obliged with three dishes that showcase the bounty of summer produce and add flowers in fun and flavorful ways.
Cool, crisp cucumber gazpacho is topped with a peach and tomato salad, then garnished with marigold petals to add a spicy, saffron-like bite.
Tender Asian eggplant is caramelized with garlic and pepper jelly in a sweet-hot dish garnished with begonia flowers to add a sour citrus punch when you bite in.
Less exotic, but no less tasty, Paolini’s version of ricotta-stuffed fried squash blossoms is a bit more time consuming than the other dishes, but offers several interesting touches.
“You start with flowers by adding color to the plate,” Paolini said. “You can use pink and yellow and purple — vibrant colors you just don’t see in the food that you cook. But once you start tasting them, you discover different flavors that really pop when paired with the right things.”
These recipes from executive chef Jason Paolini of the new Linton’s restaurant at the Atlanta Botanical Garden feature flavorful flowers and blossoms in dishes plated in beautiful and creative ways.
Peach and Tomato Salad With Cucumber Gazpacho and Marigolds
This quintessentially summery peach, tomato and cucumber dish eats like a salad and soup in one bowl. Cool and crisp, it features marigold petals, which add sunny splashes of color and a spicy, saffron-like bite.
For the salad:
1 ripe peach, sliced into 12 wedges
1 ripe heirloom tomato, large dice
1 cup stale bread torn into bite-size pieces and lightly toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 marigold flowers split into petals
½ cup shaved Parmesan
In a medium mixing bowl, toss the peaches, tomatoes, and shallots with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
For the gazpacho:
2 cucumbers peeled, de-seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
5 mint leaves
¼ cup of stale bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
In a blender, combine all ingredients except the olive oil and puree on high for 15 seconds. Drizzle the olive oil into the blender while it is blending. Once it is blended, pour the gazpacho into a container and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.
Pour a quarter cup of gazpacho into the center of four shallow bowls.
Toss the peach and tomato salad with bread pieces and spoon on top of the gazpacho.
Garnish with marigold petals and shaved Parmesan.
Per serving: 240 calories (percent of calories from fat, 63), 7 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 17 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 273 milligrams sodium.
Pepper Jelly Glazed Fairy Tale Eggplant With Red and White Begonias
Paolini likes tiny Fairy Tale eggplant for this dish but any tender Asian variety will do. Pepper jelly from the jar gives it a sticky-sweet-hot kick, and the begonias add a contrasting sour citrus burst when you bite into them.
12 Fairy Tale eggplant cut in half or Asian eggplant cut into discs
2 tablespoons peanut oil
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ cup of pepper jelly
4 basil leaves, shaved thinly
salt and pepper to taste
small hand full of begonias
In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil and add the eggplant and garlic and sauté over high heat until the eggplant begins to caramelize, about 5 minutes. If the pan seems dry, drizzle a little more oil into the skillet.
Add the pepper jelly and allow the eggplant to stew in the pepper jelly for about 5 minutes. If the jelly is thick, add a dash of water to thin it and coat the eggplant. Add the basil to finish and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the glazed eggplant on four plates and garnish with red and white begonias
Per serving: 282 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), 5 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fiber, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 27 milligrams sodium.
Ricotta Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms With Pimento Puree and Arugula
For the squash blossoms:
4 squash blossoms
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon minced chives
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 bunch arugula
olive oil to taste
lemon juice to taste salt and pepper to taste
To stuff the squash blossoms:
Carefully reach inside the blossom and remove the stamen. Using tweezers is the best way to do this. In a mixing bowl, mix the ricotta, chives, lemon zest, olive oil and honey and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Gently fill the blossoms with the ricotta mixture
Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to fry.
For the red pepper puree:
4 pimento or red bell peppers
¼ cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Toss the peppers with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. Once the peppers are roasted, allow them to cool. Once cool, peel the skin from the peppers and scrape out the seeds and discard the skin and seeds.
Place the peppers into a blender. Season with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
Blend the peppers on high while drizzling the olive oil into the blender. If the puree is too thick, add a dash of water while blending to thin.
To fry the squash blossoms:
Make a tempura batter
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 cup soda or sparkling water
pinch of salt
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, corn starch and sparkling water and add a pinch of salt.
In a cast iron skillet, fill half way with peanut oil and heat to 350.
Dip the squash blossom into the batter and fry in the peanut oil.
The squash may float, so once the bottom side is browned you will need to roll it over to the other side. Once squash blossom is fried, allow it to rest on a cooling rack for 1 minute so the excess oil can drain off.
Spoon the red pepper puree on a plate.
Place 1 or 2 blossoms on top of the puree.
Garnish with arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
Per serving: 432 calories (percent of calories from fat, 75), 6 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 36 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 90 milligrams sodium.
Advice for finding and using edible flowers
Besides growing your own at home, Linton’s executive chef Jason Paolini’s best advice for finding a variety edible flowers and blossoms is to get to know the vendors at your local farmers market.
“Most of the farmers grow them and have them, but they don’t always display them because they need to be kept in coolers,” Paolini said. “Squash blossoms and other edible flowers are almost always available this time of year, if you ask for them.”
Paolini also likes using vegetable blossoms, which often mimic the flavor of the vegetable itself.
“In the late summer we see arugula blossoms, kale blossoms, okra blossoms,” he said. “If you get a blossom from a mustard green, it’s going to have that flavor. It gives you a really sharp, concentrated burst.”
Words of caution: Not all flowers are edible. Find a good guide and use it.