Monday, July 27, 2009

Zucchini Everywhere? Ratatouille and Chocolate Zucchini Cake!

No matter how few zucchini plants a gardener grows, there always seems to be an over-abundance of the prolific vegetable. People bring brown bags full of zucchini to work, offering them to anyone who will take them! These unwanted zucchini can be turned into wonderful dishes. I had a neighbor who used to beg for my garden’s zucchini blossoms, and I had to be sure to give her the “male” blossoms because once their job was over, well, they could be dismissed. She’d batter the blossoms and fry them in olive oil, evoking memories of childhood in her Italian family.

We grilled zucchini over the weekend. My daughter sliced it in ¼ inch slices lengthwise, and drizzled it with olive oil. I grilled it on both sides, just until each side had nice grill marks. Sprinkled with just a little salt and pepper, it was delicious “as is.” You don’t have to do a lot to zucchini to enjoy it, but it plays nicely with a lot of other vegetables and ingredients.

This post features recipes for Ratatouille Stew and Chocolate Zucchini Bread (more like cake). Both are highly-rated, adapted from Eating Well, and will make great use of the many zucchini sitting on your back porch (or in a brown bag on your desk), waiting to be appreciated. Here the zucchini is granted the honor it deserves!

Ratatouille Stew
Makes 10 side-dish servings (5 main-dish)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 red and/or yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (I'd leave this out!)
1 medium eggplant, diced
2 large zucchini, diced
6 medium ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (you can substitute canned)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and bell peppers; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and fennel seeds; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl.
3. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in places, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables.
4. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in places, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, thyme and the reserved vegetables and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
5. Bake the ratatouille, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 35 to 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (1 3/4 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted (or 1/3 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate chips)
2 cups grated zucchini (1 medium)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.
2. Spread walnuts in a pie pan and bake until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
4. Whisk eggs, sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla and melted chocolate in another large bowl until blended. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in zucchini and the reserved walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops.
5. Bake the loaves 55 to 60 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool completely.

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