By Leigh Abernathy (passioncook(at)aristotle.net)

I have to say it wasn't the zucchini's fault. To be honest, I had pretty much ignored it since we planted the seeds. I blame that on the gardening fatigue--five months of battling bugs, weeds and drought--that can strike even the most dedicated gardener towards the end of the season.

So when the cooler weather struck and I poked around in the garden looking for survivors of my neglect, I wasn't expecting much.

Oh boy, was I surprised.

Now zucchini's well-known for its self-camouflaging capabilities--it's a survival technique. Here it is, just trying to grow up so it can spread its seeds around and make more zucchini and what do we do? Pick it young, before it gets big enough to have any fun. I don't blame it for hiding from me. Of course, young zucchini is tender, sweet, and perfect for steaming with a little butter, and that's all I was hoping for: a few small ones for dinner that night.

So I crouched in front of the zucchini--eye level's best for spotting recalcitrant squash--and gingerly lifted up a leaf. What was that in the shadows? There--that stretch of green reaching towards the fence--is that. . .could it be. . .?


Oh. It's not the world's shortest, fattest snake? Who knew I could jump that high?

It's a good thing I didn't land on the zucchini. That would be the two-foot long, sixteen-inch around, five-and-a-half pound monster zucchini. An impressive work by Mama Nature, no doubt about it, but one that presents a culinary dilemma. Those big babies are too pithy to steam or sauté, not to mention they are lacking in flavor, but it seemed a shame to waste what might be the whole zucchini crop on the compost heap.

So it sat on the counter, presiding over the kitchen for nearly a week. Taunting me. In the end, there was only one solution, of course: zucchini bread.

Lots and lots of zucchini bread.

I had plenty of material to experiment with (fifteen cups of shredded zucchini goes a long way) and after ten loaves I came up with a recipe that satisfied the fat and sugar monitor in the house without sacrificing moistness or flavor. The raisins add chewiness and bursts of sweetness and the citrus zest (the colored part of the peel) provides subtle zip that balances the spices.

Monster Zucchini Bread
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 cups shredded zucchini
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup oats
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon oats

First, beat together eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla until they're well-combined. For a moister bread (with more fat) increase the oil to 1 cup.

Next, add the shredded zucchini and milk. Shredding the zucchini will be made easier by using a food processor or a slicer (also called a mandoline). If, like me, you're dealing with a mammoth zucchini, cut or scoop out the seeds and the flesh around them before you grate it. This isn't necessary on smaller zucchini because the seeds haven't developed yet. Don't bother peeling either size: grate them peel and all. The green flecks of the peel add a little color and save some time.

In a separate bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Process the oats in a blender or food processor until you've created a coarse flour, and stir this into to the flour-spice mixture. Gradually incorporate the flour mixture into the liquids until you have a thick batter, then stir in the raisins and nuts.

Pour the batter into two large or three medium loaf pans--it should fill them a little over halfway--then sprinkle a large pinch of oats over the top for looks and bake at 350°F for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Be sure to check the loaves during the last fifteen minutes or so of baking so they don't overbake. Since Zucchinifest 2000, we've taken to eating zucchini bread for breakfast, lunch and dessert. We've had it sliced and toasted with jam. I've even eaten peanut butter and zucchini bread sandwiches, which are actually pretty good. I've also frozen some up for the crowd coming for Thanksgiving. Twelve loaves, to be exact.

Zucchini bread, anyone?

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