Thursday, January 15, 2009

Summer in the kitchen garden: zucchini

I am not generally a summer person. Although I grew up in Africa, I wilt in the extreme heat that we experience in Melbourne in February. However summer produce is wonderful: I paticularly love all the berries and stone fruit. We live so close to berry farms and orchards that we can regularly indulge in feasts of strawberries, make fresh blueberry pancakes or rasberry coulis to serve with quality vanilla ice cream for a simple dessert.

The heat also means that after a slow start because of our unseasonally cold December, in the last few weeks the kitchen garden we started in September has really taken off. Corn is starting to form, tomatoes are everywhere and if you don't pick that perfect zucchini when you see it in the evening, it'll be the size of your arm the next morning. The garden is our attempt to produce as much of our own food as possible, to be as close to the source as we can. My visit to Chez Panisse and some of the farmers' markets in California only reinforced this idea - and we have all enjoyed salads eaten literally minutes after they were picked, with a variety of vinaigrettes (my favourite is made with lemon wine vinegar and Milawa's green peppercorn seeded mustard).

I have also had to find ways to use zucchini: we planted 2 in September and then made the mistake of planting another 3 in December - not only are the first two still producing several zucchini a week, they have now been joined by the other 3. SO I've stuffed big ones with couscous flavoured with sultanas, apricots, preserved lemon, cinnamon and cumin; grated medium ones and tossed them in olive oil with garlic, lemon and lots of black pepper; made zucchini muffins using a carrot cake recipe; roasted them to be used in salads. Here is the family's favourite recipe: a chocolate zucchini cake which is dark and really moist and is still that way a couple of days later.


250 g plain flour
400 g castor sugar
65 g cocoa powder
1 TBS bicarb soda
1/2 TBS baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 eggs
350 ml vegetable oil
350 g grated zucchini
90 g chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and flour a baking tin (I use a kugelhopf tin).
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl beat the eggs and oil, and add to dry ingredients. Fold in the nuts and zucchini until they are evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing (although it is just as good without).

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