If I had to trace a line that plotted my knowledge of vegetable gardening over time, it would bump along the X-axis (i.e., the nothing line) for the first twenty-five years of my life, move up to the next to nothing mark following the construction of our two side-by-side backyard raised beds eighteen months ago, to where it is now, right at just a smidge above next to nothing.
And so you’ll probably think I’m a total turd when I tell you that, despite this, my garden beds are overflowing with fresh produce. At the moment, I have about a hundred tomatoes that are on their way from turning green to red, a dozen finger-length eggplants, and one gorgeous head of broccoli with several more promising to emerge soon.
I have actually been begging the garden to put on the breaks just a bit lately, pleading with my zucchini plants in particular to please, please slow down with the zuc production so that we can properly enjoy all of the fruits of their labor. I’ve made just about all that I can imagine making with our sweet garden fresh zucchini from asian stir-fry to grilled bread salad. From a very summery vegetarian lasagna topped with crisped squash blossoms to a new favorite weeknight dinner of zoodles with hand-cut pasta tossed in a garlic-y basil pesto.
And last week, I found myself fresh out of ideas, officially exhausted from trying to shove zucchini slices and slivers into everything under the sun. I literally could not imagine making another dish with these subtly sweet, smooth-skinned, almost-bigger-than-my-arm green summer squash even if I wanted to. (Cue violins.)
Thankfully, I stumbled across a recipe for zucchini bread in Renee Erickson’s A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus that changed all of that a few weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with zucchini bread, let me just tell you, it’s not really a “bread.” It’s more like a sweet, spicy cake that gets its rich, soft texture from the addition of grated and strained zucchini.
This version has tons of warm spice from the addition of nutmeg and ginger and a bright, vibrant air to it from copious amounts of freshly zested lemon. If you’re making this as the seasons turn to fall or you’re just not a fan of lemony desserts, you could omit the lemon zest and make it more like a traditional spice cake, but I find the lemon tends to kick things up a notch, especially during the dog days of summer.
After plating, each slice is finished off with a healthy dollop of crème fraiche (I’ve spiked mine with fresh nutmeg) for some extra tang and a generous sprinkle of good flaky sea salt. This last step is clutch, so don’t skip it. In fact, just bring that jar of flaky sea salt with you to the table when you eat so you can refresh as you go.
I like to think that at the end of this season the line on my little “gardening knowledge” plot will get a big boost—or at the very least it’ll end up somewhere higher than just a smidge above next to nothing. That I can pretend I had a hand in making all of this garden magic happen. But the truth is, it’s still inching along, bit by bit, while my garden gets helpful boosts from living in a region where it’s damn near impossible to fail at growing big heaping piles of long, green zucchini.
So thanks, Portland, for making me appear to be a far more competent gardener than I actually am. One day, my line will catch up, I promise.
PS: I totally forgot to tell y’all that I have a couple of interviews that went up last month. I’m the most awkward interviewee ever so I was super nervous beforehand. Check them out and see what you think!
- 3 cups of zucchini (about 1 pound), grated
- 2 cups of granulated sugar, divided into parts of ¼ cup and 1 ¾ cups
- unsalted butter, for greasing the bread pan
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the bread pan
- 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- ½ teaspoon of baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for serving
- 3 large eggs
- zest of 1 large lemon
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar (or demerara sugar)
- Crème fraiche, for garnish
- Flaky salt (I use either Jacobsen or Bitterman’s flake from The Meadow)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Add a tablespoon of flour loaf pan and rotate the pan to flour all sides evenly. Dump out excess flour and set aside.
- Mix the grated zucchini with ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a medium size bowl. Wrap in cheese cloth place in a fine mesh strainer to strain while you prepare the rest of the batter, setting a bowl (the bowl you mixed it in with the sugar will work fine) underneath the zucchini so you can see how much moisture leaves it. Every 5 minutes, squeeze and press the zucchini to remove excess water. This technique of removing as much water as possible is what will keep your bread light and fluffy as opposed to dense and wet.
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and ½ teaspoon of grated nutmeg. In a separate large bowl, combine the remaining 1¾ cups of granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Add the olive oil in 3 equal parts, beating after each addition.
- Fold the flour mixture into the olive oil mixture until no flour streaks remain. To fold, use a wooden spoon to lift matter from the bottom of the bowl and scoop it up on top, repeating until no flour is left and without stirring the mixture. At this point, the batter should be fairly thick and viscous.
- Return to the zucchini and press to ring out all of the remaining moisture. At this point, your zucchini should have condensed down to 1 (packed) cup of zucchini, depending on how much moisture your zucchini was carrying. Add the zucchini to the batter and stir until incorporated. Discard the leftover zucchini liquid.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and sprinkle the top with dark brown sugar. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- While the bread is baking, stir a pinch of nutmeg (optional, to taste) into the crème fraiche.
- Cool the bread in the pan for 20 to 30 minutes and then turn out, slice into pieces and serve. Top each slice with nutmeg crème fraiche and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.