Tuesday, September 08, 2009

More fun with zucchini!

It's that time again...when your garden starts giving you daily baseball bats of zucchini--or if you didn't plant any, your friends and neighbors clutter your stoop with their friendly offerings. Oppressive as the onslaught may be, I still welcome it. I make my zucchini relish for the rest of the year (which I put on darn near everything!), shred and freeze some in two-cup portions for baking during the winter months, and of course, make my very favorite, absolutely-to-die-for chocolate zucchini cake! However, recently, one of my dearest college friends was talking about using an Amish friendship starter in her baking--something I haven't done in more than a decade, because you ultimately end up with swimming pools of the stuff once you feed it a few times, and your friends and colleagues quickly become vexed when you overshare! But it had been a long time since I had baked with the "Amish" starter, plus, I remember reading in the King Arthur cookbook that you could use your regular sourdough starter to convert it to the sweet Amish friendship starter, which I've always wanted to try.

So I took a cup of my regular sourdough starter and put it in a glazed ceramic bowl, then added a cup of milk, a cup of sugar, and a cup of flour, covered it loosely and let it do its thing for about 24 hours on the kitchen counter. Sure enough, the next day, it was all bubbly and puffy and lovely. Now...what to do with it? This is when I got what turned out to be a brilliant idea: AMISH Chocolate Zucchini Cake! I sort of combined King Arthur's recipe for the traditional Amish friendship cake made with the sweet starter and my regular chocolate zucchini cake recipe. For an initial experiment, I think it turned out very well, moist but structurally sound and very flavorful, with that slight sourdough tang from the addition of the starter. And I really took it over the top by adding a terrific maple walnut icing! The only change I would make would be to increase both the sweetness and the cocoa content by a little bit, and I have included those amendments in the recipe below. The great thing about the King Arthur version of the Amish friendship starter is that the leftover cup of starter can be stored in the fridge and fed again again at a later date to bake something else yummy! But let's start with this:

"Amish" Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/3 cup butter
2 ounces/squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup cocoa powder (preferably dark)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (activated) Amish friendship starter
3 cups zucchini, peeled and shredded
2 cups walnuts, toasted and very coarsely broken up
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray one 12-cup bundt pan and a large loaf pan.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the two squares of unsweetened chocolate with the butter (about two minutes total, stopping and stirring once or twice). Mix in the cocoa powder and set aside to cool a bit.

Beat oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until well blended. Slowly add in the chocolate and butter mixture and mix. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients in thirds, alternately with the Amish friendship starter. Mix in grated zucchini, nuts, and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about an hour for the bundt, and 50 minutes for the loaf. Cool cakes for about 15 minutes in their pans before turning out to cool completely on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, or better yet, coat with maple walnut icing (recipe to follow). This is such a moist cake that it will keep (covered) for up to a week.

*Like most cakes of its kind, it's even better if you let it age for at least 24 hours before cutting and devouring.

Maple Walnut Icing

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup (real, preferably Grade B) maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
pinch of salt
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped

Cream together the butter and syrup until smooth. Mix in the vanilla and maple extracts and salt. Whisk in the powdered sugar (adding a little extra powdered sugar if too thin or some cream by the teaspoon if too thick). Stir in the chopped walnuts. Pour over the cakes and let it drip down the sides. (You can always zap the icing in the microwave for 15-30 seconds on defrost to make it more pourable if need be, then it will set up nicely as it cools.)

That takes care of dessert, but there's always more zucchini to use up, so we need something savory. There are many, many versions of zucchini bake, casserole, or pie out there, but I have one that I favor that makes use of many goodies from the garden, including fresh herbs and both sweet and hot peppers. It makes a good side dish for dinner with some sort of meat from the grill, or a nice lunch entree, or topped with poached or basted eggs, a terrific breakfast/brunch!

Gina's Zucchini Bake

1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups shredded (unpeeled) zucchini (or yellow squash or a mix of the two)
1/2 large onion, diced or shredded
1 large red pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced or shredded
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced or shredded
4 green onions, root ends removed and sliced thinly (both white and green parts)
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup Bisquick (or similar baking mix)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped (or a teaspoon dried)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 8x8 square baking dish or 9-inch Pyrex pie plate with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the shredded squash, onions, and peppers. Cook for about five minutes until veggies start to soften. Set aside to cool for ten minutes or so.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, then mix in the Bisquick, cheeses, parsley and salt and pepper. If the veggie mixture has cooled to warm, stir it all in at once. If it's still very hot, add it a little bit at a time to the egg mixture to temper it slowly (like a custard).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes until set in the very middle and golden brown on the bottom and edges. You can top with some more shredded cheddar cheese, or some sliced ripe garden tomatoes and/or poached eggs for a breakfast dish. Yum!

1 comment:

J S Grant said...

Man Gina - you are a baking WONDER! I feel all proud of myself if I cook up a batch of biscotti. My zucchini plants produced three flowers and then gave up the ghost. It was so spooky I didn't put them in the compost! I thought you might like this recipe from the LA Times for cucumber, pineapple and ginger aqua fresca. It's stupendous! (Though I made a ginger simple syrup instead of getting the secret ginger sauce! http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fow-sos9-2009sep09,0,4267888.story

Opps gotta go the hounds have found a squirrel (!) in the fig tree!!!