My mother is a profound believer in the power of zucchini. A zucchini patch, she says, is a meal. It can feed a family for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner on the grill. You name the zucchini recipe, she's made it. She has four recipes for zucchini bread alone.
The one I want to talk about today—the one with the thick, moist center and the thin green flecks—is her standby, the one she makes the most. She's had it for so long she can't remember where the recipe came from anymore—only that it's a keeper, and that it's equally good as muffins or loaves.
She makes other recipes every now and again—Chocolate Zucchini Bread from our friend Maddie, a loaf with lemon zest and crystallized ginger from Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks. And sometimes she’ll even fire up the oven for Lynn's Spicy Zucchini Bread from the Victory Garden Cookbook.
But it's her standby loaf that tastes like zucchini season to me. This loaf reminds me of sitting on the stools at my parents’ kitchen counter holding a knife and a stick of butter, and carefully slathering one slice, then another, until the bread is gone. My mother's made a few twists over the years—she’s swapped the all-purpose flour for whole wheat pastry flour, thrown in a handful of poppyseeds, and left in or out the nuts depending on who’s home. But essentially, it's the same tried and true loaf.
The other day, I tried a version of my own. I found a baseball bat of a zucchini growing out from a vine wrapped around the raspberries in the garden. I grated it down and wrang the water out, the way my mother taught me, so the bread doesn’t get too wet. I dug out a bag of rye flour and added cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. I rummaged around in the cupboard until I found the apple cider molasses I bought this spring in a tiny store in New York, and a few minutes later, I packed the oven with two loaves.
It wasn't too different from my mother's—just a few small changes—but I was thrilled with the way the squash played off the rye. The shift reminded me of jazz—the way the same melody gets played over and over, and changes over time. It was a zucchini bread riff—an improv of whole wheat, molasses, and spice—that somehow tasted familiar but new and just right.
Here's the recipe.
Though I usually make it into loaves, this recipe also makes wonderful muffins. Simply scoop the batter into prepared tins, and shorten the cooking time to about 20 minutes. Also, my mother says it's a good idea to wring out your zucchini after you grate it—otherwise the bread can get too wet.
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon molasses or apple cider molasses
3 and 1/2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup poppyseeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two bread tins. Whisk together the eggs, oil, vanilla, and molasses in a large bowl. Add the zucchini and stir well.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and poppyseeds. Pour these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture and stir until just combined. Add the nuts if using, then divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the bread is still moist in the center but just cooked through.