Or, what to do with a surplus of zucchini!
Zucchini, or courgettes, a type of summer squash, are native to central America and not—surprisingly!—Italy. This explains why there are no images or references to zucchini before the sixteenth century, as they would not have arrived in Europe until after Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492. An early reference to zucchini is found in the 1580 recipe collection, L’Opera, written by the famous Renaissance cook, Bartolomeo Scappi. In the work, Scappi shares a recipe for a “thick soup of stuffed [summer] squash” that mixes veal sweetbreads, goat-kid fat, gooseberries, and spices with the zucchini.
Varieties of zucchini are found in a few seventeenth and eighteenth century paintings, such as the above still life by the Italian painter Simone del Tintore.
For a few weeks every summer, our garden produces more zucchini than we know what to do with. I try to use up as many zucchinis as possible: zucchini “noodles”, pickled zucchini, zucchini muffins. Fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with ricotta, are a treat that I am not often ambitious enough to make, but I always have time to make a chocolate zucchini loaf.
Moist and sweet, this loaf is decadent, yet also “good-ish” and guilt-free on account of the quantity of vegetable used in the recipe. The shredded zucchini keeps the loaf ultra-moist, and cuts down on the amount of oil needed. It is delicious served as-is, warmed and buttered, or even with ice cream. You can freeze this loaf and enjoy later—but be sure to refrigerate after a few days, as the moisture makes it spoil faster than other loaves.
Chocolate Zucchini Loaf
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups grated zucchini (with peel), packed
1/3 cup sour milk (take 1 tsp lemon juice and add milk to make 1/3 cup total)
1/2 cup chopped pecans/walnuts/chocolate chips (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on top. Mix a few times—it will be lumpy.
4. Mix lemon juice and sour milk in measuring cup. Add sour milk to flour mixture alternately with grated zucchini in 2 or 3 parts.
5. Mix in nuts (if using). Turn into a greased loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3 inches). Bake in oven for 70-80 minutes. A wooden toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean. Let loaf stand in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.