Ode to Zucchini

It has been a long time since I've posted about food on this blog. Mostly because it's summer (yes, still) and I pretty much munch on fruits and veggies all summer. Nothing remarkable about that. But now we're getting into harvest season and I'm trying to figure out what to do with the stuff coming out of my ears garden. Like zucchini the size of baseball bats and papaya squash the size of softballs. Yes, we've considered getting a couple teams together. Also, the pounds and pounds of asian pears on the trees out back. Jelly, maybe.

But back to zucchini. Here's what I want to know: Why do we grow the dang things in the first place? When it comes down to it, I probably buy zucchini once, maybe twice a year in the grocery store. The things are bland, sometimes bitter, and have a lackluster texture. And yet we grow them and burden ourselves with 15 pound monstrosities that we stare out for days until the monsters break us and we search cookbooks, online, friends for recipes to consume the things. Why do we do this to ourselves???

I have a theory. I think we grow zucchini because it's the dependable crop. Even when our tomatoes stay stubbornly green and our melons get all pissy and refuse to ripen and the corn is obnoxiously small, we know that zucchini plant won't let us down. It soldiers through good and bad weather, assuring us that, yes, we are gardeners of skill and merit! Those massive leaves, the prickly stems, the huge fruit that are 1 inch long on Monday and 15 inches long Tuesday are our confidence boosters. Peas are the same for me, actually. Every year they do so well and I have zillions of peas, but I just plop myself down in the garden and eat young peas straight from the pod. Zukes, on the other hand, need to be dealt with. So here's a handful of actually interesting and tasty ways to deal with the things, when you aren't able to get a team of baseball players together.

Korean-style Zucchini Pancakes: My zucchini eveningie began here, with these pancakes as a side dish for dinner. The recipe is here, along with pictures galore (since the pancake crispy waits for no camera - or at least not mine). I love the classic Korean green onion pancake and the seafood one too, so I figured zukes wouldn't go amiss. Turns out, they're great! With the dipping sauce (see the comments for sauce recipe) these might have been my favorite part of the meal.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread: Sounds strange, but apparently zuke brownies are the thing nowadays (who knew?). Plus, I'm an avid fan of Chocolate Chip Pumpkin bread in the Fall (and they're all in the squash family, right?) so I figured I'd give it a try. The bread's really good. Didn't notice the zucchini much and the loaves are nice and moist. It's a quick bread (tea loaf) so it comes together quickly. Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour (next time I'm using half white, half whole wheat)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chocolate chips (I used milk to contrast with the cocoa - like 'em)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour two standard size loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, eggs and oil until well-blended. Stir in the zukes and vanilla. Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and power. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter evenly between the loaf pans and bake for one hour, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. There might be melted chocolate on the tester (from the chips) but you don't want thick, uncooked batter on the tester. Allow the loaves to cool in their pans for five minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks.

After I made the batter for the Choco-Zuke bread, I still had zucchini left over. The hunt for another recipe brought me to this savory bread: Zucchini Jalapeno Parmesan Bread. I like cheese and jalapeno in breads for the richness and kick they provide. This was a definite winner. Pieces of this would be great with chili (not that I'd ever give up my precious, precious cornbread) or a southwest style salad.

Zucchini Jalapeno Parmesan Bread

2 large egg whites
1 cup shredded zucchini
1/4 cup plain yogurt, nonfat or lowfat
1/2 - 1 jalapeno pepper, depending on your spiciness preference
3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour and 9-inch square baking pan. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, one to two minutes. Add the zucchini, yogurt, pepper and 2 tablespoons cheese and mix until well-combined. Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. The mixture will be fairly thick. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Top with the remaining tablespoon cheese and bake 40 minutes or until the top and edges are golden brown and lightly crusty. Remove bread to a cooling rack.

Was I out of zucchini yet? Of course not. But I managed to use the last bit in this, a recipe courtesy of Michelle, who has demanded (more than once) that I make this. It's for a zucchini spice cake made with olive oil. That might turn some folks off at first, but olive oil in sweet, Fall-spiced dishes isn't new to me, so I was happy to give it a whirl. After all, Michelle insisted it was the best zucchini-based anything she'd ever had. And it's pretty dang good. I made cupcakes instead of the whole cake for ease of freezing and portability. The cakes are delicious with the lemon glaze but also great with a simple sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.

Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Lemon Crunch Glaze
adapted from "Dolce Italiano" by Gina DePalma

For the cake:
1 cup walnut pieces (I used blanced, slivered almonds because that's what I had on hand and they were perfect)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini or other summer squash

For the glaze:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan or grease and flour or line two cupcake pans (for 24 cupcakes). Place the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool the nuts, then chop them in the food processor until they resemble fine crumbs and set aside. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices on low speed until thoroughly combined, then raise the mixer to medium speed for 30 seconds. Stir in the nuts and zucchini, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you do so. Pour the batter into the cake pan or scoop into cupcake pan, filling the cups 3/4 full. Bake 45-50 minutes for the cake or 23-25 minutes for the cupcakes, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean. While the cake is baking, mix all the ingredients for the glaze in a medium bowl. Once the cake has cooled in the pan for ten minutes, remove to a cooling rack and brush the glaze over the top. It's easier to drizzle the glaze over the cupcakes. Allow cake to cool completely for the glaze to set.