Sunday, August 1, 2010

Healthy Zucchini Bread

I’ve long nagged my mom about planting different vegetables and fruits in our backyard to harvest. Imagine the wealth of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and squash that we could get! And a fig tree? Don’t even get me started.

When my mom told me that we could harvest some vegetables from her friend’s own garden, I was elated. Although there were no fig trees to be found, we ended up with a wonderful variety of homegrown summer produce. A few peppers, some cucumbers, and a couple of cute cherry tomatoes, not to mention an assortment of delicious herbs. Oh, and a zucchini.

It was a pretty sizable bounty. And when I say sizable, I mean it. Our lone zucchini tipped the scales at over three and a half pounds. Yes, you read that correctly: three and a half pounds. About 60 ounces of pure vegetation. The problem with a three and a half-pound zucchini? Only about two and a half of those pounds are usable. Unlike average sized zucchini, this humongous squash had the most developed seed structure I’ve ever seen in a summer squash. It was more like a winter squash, and anyone who has ever prepped a butternut or acorn squash (or even scooped out a pumpkin for Halloween) knows that there’s a whole mess of seed webbing to work through and that the outer flesh is the only usable part.
But when life gives you a three and a half-pound zucchini, what does one do? Ah, one makes zucchini bread. My mom pulled out an “heirloom” recipe for zucchini bread. I call it heirloom because of its odd combination of ingredients. (“Baking powder and baking soda? Sure, why not, even though there’s nothing for the baking soda to react with, it just sounds right. While we’re at it, let’s list all the ingredients and an oven temperature and just leave it at that. No further directions are required. After all, we’re only dealing with kitchen alchemy and the like.”) So I had a few reservations about how this would turn out, especially when my mom began substituting and adjusting ingredients left and right. But you know what? It came out really well. Aside from the loaves’ squatness (I’ve elected to call them tea cakes, instead), our own little kitchen experiment has a happy—and delicious—ending. Although it’s hard for me to detect any zucchini flavor (it’s a rather mild-tasting vegetable to begin with), a dose of cinnamon lends it a taste that reminds me of banana bread (it provides a wonderful scent, too). Chopped pecans add a great contrast of texture. Speaking of texture, I think the texture of the bread improves with age. The crumb gets denser and more toothsome.

This bread is also just about the healthiest quick bread recipe you may ever find. My mom swapped in applesauce for all the oil and cut back on the sugar by a third. (Apparently we have similar opinions about using vegetable oil and shortening.) Final verdict: an excellent use for our mammoth zucchini and perfect for breakfast in the morning or for a more healthful midnight snack.

Healthy Zucchini Bread
Adapted from an old family recipe

Shred the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Admittedly, we totally omitted the vanilla by accident, but the bread was just as tasty anyway. Include it if you like, but know that you can omit it also. I'd reason that the vanilla accents the other ingredients (much like salt - don't leave that out!) and also adds a floral note to the bread. This bread really improves with age and tastes delicious cold, as the crumb becomes especially tooth-sinking and dense. The loaves can be stored, wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator, for up to one week.

Yield: 2 (shortish) loaves

3 large eggs

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 by 5-inch loaf pans.

Combine eggs, applesauce, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until combined.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon until well-combined. Meanwhile, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside.
Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just-combined. Don't overmix; there should be no large streaks of white flour remaining, but lumps are fine. Stir in the pecans.
Divide the batter evenly among the loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the loaves comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack until the loaves reach room temperature.

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