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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Got Zucchini?

(Originally published in The News Review on August 4, 2015)

Recipe Links:  Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Bread, Blueberry-Walnut Zucchini Bread, Zucchini "Noodles", and Summer Squash Salad

Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Bread
I was sixteen when my parents decided to move from our suburban San Diego home to a 27-acre “hobby farm” in southern Oregon. My dad, retired from the Navy, was excited to finally have room for two cows, two pigs, a dog and a big garden. My mom, always glamorous and sophisticated, traded a successful career in real estate for the country life. We joked that it was a bit like the television show Green Acres, though my mother is much more competent than Eva Gabor's character. Mom set to work learning to make featherlight dinner rolls and canning strawberry jam. Dad got busy building a house and rototilling.

As I recall it, Dad put in two rows of zucchini. (You gardeners out there can see where this is heading.) Two rows produce a boatload of squash! A neighbor later suggested he take one zucchini seed, cut it in half before planting, and he'd still have a bountiful harvest. Needless to say, we ate a lot of zucchini bread and cheesy zucchini pie that year.

Zucchini is nutritious and inexpensive (or free from your friends who grew too much). It's adaptable to both sweet and savory preparations. Zucchini bread must be the original sneaky chef method for getting kids to eat their vegetables. It freezes well, so you can always have a loaf on hand for breakfast, tea or dessert. I've included two recipes I created for an OSU Extension/Master Food Preserver class a few years back. First, a lemon-ginger version, studded with pieces of candied ginger and flecked with lemon zest. If you like ginger, you'll love this. The second recipe incorporates two local superfoods: blueberries and walnuts. I have a freezer full of both and I'm always looking for new ways to use them.

Zucchini “noodles” may sound odd, but they're actually quite good. I have no problem with gluten or carbs and I love a good plate of pasta, but I'll happily eat my spaghetti sauce over these veggie noodles on occasion. They cook up in just a few minutes.

Whether grilling, stir-frying, or baking, about the only way to ruin zucchini is to overcook it. It can go from deliciously fork-tender to translucent and mushy in a matter of minutes. If family members turn up their noses at cooked zucchini, why not try it raw? Diced and tossed with a light, lemony dressing, a combination of zucchini and yellow summer squash makes a cool and refreshing salad.

I always thought, after a year in the country, I'd head back to California to go to college. But here I am, an Oregonian by choice, if not by birth. As I bake bread, pick berries, make jam and water my own small garden, I'm thankful for parents with a sense of adventure.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Bread


Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Bread
Makes two loaves

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup safflower or sunflower oil
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (firmly packed)
the zest of 1 lemon
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger (available in the bulk bins)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 1/2 x 4-inch bread pans. (I prefer metal pans.) Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla together with a mixer until creamy. Blend in the flour mixture just until well-combined and then fold in the zucchini and lemon zest by hand. Toss the candied ginger with a tablespoon of flour to coat well. (This keeps the pieces from sinking to the bottom of the loaves.) Fold ginger into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully remove from pans and let cool completely.

When cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil and let stand overnight. This allows the oil and moisture to distribute evenly throughout the loaves.

Blueberry-Walnut Zucchini Bread


I combined the best of 6 different recipes to create an Umpqua Valley version using our wonderful local blueberries, walnuts, eggs and, of course, zucchini.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup safflower or canola oil
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (firmly packed)
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour** two 8 x 4-inch bread pans. (I prefer metal pans.) Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon in a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla together with a mixer until creamy. Blend in the flour mixture just until well-combined and then fold in the zucchini by hand. Combine the berries and nuts in a colander and toss with a tablespoon of flour to coat them well. This keeps them from sinking to the bottom of the loaves. Fold the berries and nuts into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully remove from pans and let cool completely.

When cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or foil and let stand overnight. This allows the oil and moisture to distribute evenly throughout the loaves.

*toasting the nuts is optional, but does bring out more flavor. Place in a pie plate in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes, just until their color deepens a bit and they begin to give off their fragrance. Let cool before adding to the batter.

**I like to use cinnamon sugar instead of flour to coat the greased pans. Mix 2 tablespoons sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon until thoroughly blended. Divide between the greased pans and rotate to coat the bottom and sides.

Summer Squash Salad


Summer Squash Salad

The deep green zucchini and bright yellow summer squash in this salad remind me of my alma mater. Go Ducks!

2 small (1-inch diameter) or 1 medium (2-inch diameter) zucchini
2 small or 1 medium yellow summer squash (I like the straight “Butterstick” variety, but yellow crookneck squash is fine, too.)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
(1 teaspoon lemon zest, if desired)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese for garnishing, if desired.

Wash the squash well. Cut off the ends, cut lengthwise into quarters, then slice crosswise into half-inch pieces. Place in a serving bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, zest, mustard and olive oil. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Just before serving, pour the dressing (you may not need all of it) over the squash and toss well to combine. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese over the top, if desired. Serve immediately.

Zucchini Noodles


Zucchini “Noodles”

A good use for those extra-large summer squash.

Wash zucchini, dry thoroughly and cut off the blossom end. Hold by the stem end at an angle on a cutting board. Using a vegetable peeler, cut wide strips down the entire length, working your way all around the squash. Continuing cutting “noodles” until you reach the seeds.

Sauté the squash strips in a small amount of olive oil or butter for 2-3 minutes, just until barely tender. Top with spaghetti sauce, marinara, a creamy Alfredo or any other sauce you would normally serve over egg noodles or fettuccine. Serve immediately.

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