The people I shop with at my market always rejoice when zucchini arrives. It is versatile, gloriously green and reliable—once it comes in, it keeps coming. My farmers are usually some of the first to show up with the familiar green squash—all sizes from baby zucchini that’s perfect sliced raw in your salad to medium-size squash, excellent for ratatouille or pasta.
But about mid-July everyone is sort of ho-hum because there is ALWAYS zucchini—lots of it—including a few plants growing in our compost, for goodness sakes. How to keep the spark in zucchini? Cook a little outside the predictable box.
Here’s a recipe from famous chef Jack Bishop. You may have seen him on the PBS show “America’s Test Kitchen” where he is the editorial director. He’s also the guy who gives Cook’s Magazine founder Christopher Kimball a hard time in the taste tests.
For me, Jack Bishop is the trusted author of my very favorite Italian cookbook: The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, published in 1997. This book was a birthday gift from my close friend Mary Lynn, and it has to be the most accessible and brilliant Italian cookbook ever written. The recipes, many of which are said to be inspired by his Italian grandmother, are simple yet stunning, manageable by a fledgling cook but with the finished taste of culinary genius. He can take such simple ingredients to an astonishing level, as in this “Chilled Potato and Zucchini Soup with Fresh Tomato Garnish”:
He notes that this is the recipe “for the summer cook who wants to do as much of the work as possible during the cool morning hours.” Love this.
- Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- One medium onion, minced (I like yellow onion for this)
- Three cloves garlic (well…. You know me. Just trust Mr. Bishop)
- Four medium new potatoes, peeled and diced (Here, I’ve used the little Rose Gold potatoes grown by Bivier Farms, and I wash well but don’t peel. I like the added nutrients, and the pink color looks pretty in the soup, but follow Mr. Bishop first, then decide.)
- Three and half cups vegetable stock (I make my own and will share that process later—promise). He also says you can use water, but I never have.)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Four small, about one pound, zucchini, scrubbed, ends trimmed and cut into half-inch pieces
- One tablespoon fresh mint or basil (This is the thing that sold me on the recipe—the mint—who knew! The basil is nice, but the mint takes this way over the top—go for the mint—make a special trip, if there’s none in your garden.)
- One large tomato, cored and diced very small
Heat the oil in a medium pot or soup kettle. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, about four minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until golden, about two minutes.
Add the potatoes, about one and half cups of the stock and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender and starting to fall apart, about 25 minutes.
Add the zucchini and the remaining two cups of stock to the pot. Simmer uncovered until the zucchini is tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then pour into an air-tight container and chill for at least four hours or up to two day (Love this too, making food way ahead–for a dinner party, for instance–is always a good thing.).
When ready to serve, stir in the mint and adjust the seasonings. Ladle the soup into four individual serving bowls and garnish each with the diced tomato. Serve immediately.
Now, Don—my husband—has his own answer to zucchini. It’s not all that “out of the box,” but it is scrumptious—double chocolate zucchini muffins. I guarantee, you’ve never had a better dessert muffin.
He started making these over 10 years ago, basing it on a “light” zucchini bundt cake recipe he found in a Cooking Light magazine (June 2002). Of course, he did away with “light” right off the bat and made the decision that muffins were more convenient for his lunch—this recipe yields about 24.
Note that this recipe uses two cups of shredded zucchini, added near the end of mixing. To prepare zucchini for this recipe, Don shreds a washed and dried medium zucchini with ends removed into a paper towel-lined colander, places it over a bowl and sets it in the refrigerator overnight. So plan to begin your recipe the day before you make it, giving the shredded zucchini enough time to “drain” its excess water. This is also the way you would prepare zucchini for freezing to use in baking during the winter—so maybe do some extra and tuck that away!
For the muffins:
Spray two, 12-count muffin tins with cooking spray, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Have all your ingredients at room temperature, setting everything out about two hours before you begin.
In a standard mixer, cream the following:
- A quarter cup raw sugar
- A half cup light brown sugar
- Four ounces cream cheese, softened
- One-third cup extra virgin olive oil
- Beat until well blended, about five minutes.
- Add three eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Beat in one teaspoon vanilla.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients:
- Two and a half cups all-purpose flour (We like organic whole wheat pastry flour.)
- A half cup unsweetened cocoa powder (This ingredient is key to the recipe. We use Rapunzel Organic Cocoa Powder, which is NOT Dutch-processed and is fair trade. We have never found a substitute, though you can come close with a couple other organic brands. Friends who have taken our suggestion to use Rapunzel in their baking have never been disappointed and usually never go back to their old brand.)
- Two teaspoons baking powder
- A half teaspoon baking soda
- A half teaspoon salt
- A teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Now add the flour mixture and three-fourths cup buttermilk alternately to the cream cheese mixture, beginning and ending with the flour.
Once you have a nice smooth batter, stir in two cups shredded zucchini and two-thirds cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. You can also add a quarter cup finely chopped nuts, if you like. We like walnuts for this recipe.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for 30-35 minutes, testing with a wooden toothpick for doneness. The toothpick should come out fairly clean, but be careful not to over bake. The amazing consistency of this muffin remains fudgy. Cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes; then, finish cooling on baking racks.
When he makes these, everyone in the neighborhood begs for muffins, especially our friend Norm who loves anything sweet and chocolaty. In the summer, we put them in the refrigerator to keep them fresh, though they never last very long. Cold seems to enhance the flavor.
Keep in mind that a serving size is one muffin. That will never happen.