Yes, it is that time of year again, time when folks around here are sure to lock all their doors and close their windows lest some zucchini “vandal” strike by leaving a surreptitious gift of zucchini from the garden. Our own vegetable patch has been pumping out the green squashes with a regularity to rival that of the season’s other excess crop: campaign speeches.

We’ve tried a new variety this year, ‘Astia’ from Renee’s Garden seeds. This tidy little French bush variety was developed for container growing and small-space gardens. The non-rambling, compact squash vines are ornamental, early bearing and productive with a capital “P” producing plenty of glossy green fruits. I am sold on ‘Astia,’ and I’ll never grow any other variety again. As always I have go to great lengths to disguise zucchini for the finicky eater of the family.

I grate it to add to corn muffins, fruit breads and pancakes. The finely grated zucchini “disappears” and adds a subtle richness to these baked goods. Try freezing grated or finely diced zucchini in one-cup amounts to use throughout the winter. Though I heard yeas ago of using zucchini in a chocolate cake, it was only yesterday that I resorted to this ultimate example of trickery. But oh my goodness! Why did I wait so long? This stuff is heaven. I tinkered just a bit with two recipes to come up with this one that is even better the second day.

Chocolate zucchini cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup baking cocoa (use a good quality cocoa such as Giridelli)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons orange extract
2 large eggs
2 cups finely diced, unpeeled zucchini
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/2 cup double-chocolate semi-sweet chips, coarsely chopped

Lightly grease and flour a round 10-inch springform baking pan. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa. In a large separate bowl, combine the sugar, oil, eggs, sour cream and orange extract, mixing well.

Stir in the dry ingredients and then stir in the diced zucchini. Batter will be thick. Spread in prepared pan and sprinkle chocolate chips on top, bake in a preheated 350˚F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the springform pan, between the pan and the cake. Remove the sides of the pan.  Serves 8 to 10

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