Talk about tough love. Zucchini is my favourite summer vegetable, for a number of reasons. It grows quickly, it’s lush and attractive, the flowers are big and sunny, and it produces a ton of edible food. Well, perhaps not literally a ton, though it may seem so at times...
Zucchini is incredibly versatile in the kitchen, whether the size of a baby finger or the size of a small canoe, whether in a soup, salad, main course or dessert. Best of all, zucchini flowers are edible, too, and what better way to curb the natural fecundity of a zucchini plant than to nip it in the bud.
In my first garden, I planted twelve zucchini. I had grand plans. I filled the flowers with a mix of herbs, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese, rolled them gently in batter and fried them until crispy and gold. When the zucchini were small, I sliced them into pasta primavera or a pot of minestrone soup. When they were as wide as my wrist, I chopped them into ratatouille or grilled them sliced with olive oil and rosemary.
When they reached the girth of my grandmother's rolling pin, I grated them for vegetable lasagna and zucchini chocolate cake. When I couldn't keep up, I stacked the most plump and matronly zucchini like cordwood waiting for winter. And that’s when John came into the picture.
“What’s with all the zucchini?” he asked.
“Do you have something against zucchini?”
“Good,” I said. “You’re having it for supper.”
Cooking for two had the positive effect of doubling my zucchini consumption, but it seemed to make no dent whatsoever in the quantity of the raw material. The zucchini kept pace, as if sensing the drain on resources required a corresponding increase in supply.
There’s a saying in rural parts that the only time you really need to lock your car is during zucchini season. John, however, had a slightly different take on this old adage. He suggested I box the zucchini, add a big red bow and put them in my car unlocked.
As winter settled in, the last of the zucchini began to shrivel and turn yellow in my basement. I had to concede that, perhaps, too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing. “I’ve decided to take your zucchini pledge,” I announced, “and to prove my commitment, I’m going to toss the last of these zucchini into the compost pile.”
He glanced at the bucket of yellow zucchini. “They’re rotting,” he said.
“No," I insisted, "just a bit soft." I poked one to prove the flesh was still firm enough for the side of the grater. I made one final zucchini chocolate cake and, in a soft December snow, committed the last of the zucchini to the compost pile. True to my word, I reduced my zucchini patch to six and then to three, and miraculously, I've always had enough for one last zucchini chocolate cake as the snow flies.
I often make this cake in two smaller pans and freeze one for another day. In fact, it's often better on the second day, if you can resist it warm from the oven!
Zucchini Chocolate Cake
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups grated zucchini
Handful of mini chocolate chips
Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom into bowl. In another bowl, beat sugar, butter, oil and vanilla until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk. Stir in the grated zucchini. Pour batter into pan that has been greased and floured. Sprinkle on chocolate chips.
Bake at 325F for 40-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
Still more zucchini? Try chocolate zucchini muffins or zucchini oatmeal cookies!
(This article first appeared in Grainews.)