Elie knows me so well. Not long ago, he came home with a gift, the Cookbook Book, a beautiful book about cookbooks and how they shape our lives. A cookbook offers possibility—of romantic dinners, celebrations, family traditions, memories. Cookbooks inspire us, allowing us to dream not only of the meal itself but how making food for someone shows love, inspires conversations, nourishes, heals.
The Cookbook Book kindly validates my love affair with cookbooks. I have an overflowing and ever-growing collection of cookbooks and recipe collections–from my great-grandmother’s Belle Bennett Circle Whitesburg Methodist Church Cookbook from 1955 to my Mom’s and Granny’s well-worn recipe cards to current favorites like Sunday Suppers and Date Night In. When I’m planning a gathering, or even just Tuesday night dinner, I’ll pile my favorite cookbooks on the sofa and thumb through them one by one, looking for inspiration. What will they like? What will Elie like? What will I like? What sounds delicious? What do I want to learn, experiment with? What have I never cooked before? What can I re-invent?
I rarely replicate a recipe exactly, because part of the fun of cooking lies in creativity. How do I take this idea, this recipe, and make it mine? That’s what I try to teach in my cooking classes as well. Here’s a recipe to use as a guideline—a method, but take the idea and twist it into a dish that is uniquely you, something that represents your style and taste. That’s why new cookbooks—amazing cookbooks—are published every day. Because every recipe, every idea, can be tweaked to match a point of view, a philosophy of cooking and eating.
Take this recipe for zucchini bread, for example. Elie and I had dinner with friends one night at The Whale Wins, one of Renee Erickson’s excellent restaurants in Seattle, and we ordered this zucchini bread for dessert. It’s amazing—moist from zucchini and rich with olive oil, incredibly lemony from lots of lemon zest, not too sweet. They had toasted the thick slice in a pan with butter and then served it with crème fraiche and sea salt. It was so delicious.
Luckily, Renee shares the recipe for her zucchini bread in her phenomenal cookbook, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, which is one of my favorite cookbooks of last year. It’s filled with deceptively simple recipes for beautiful, beautiful seasonally-inspired dishes. It’s the way I like to cook as well, so her ideas speak to me.
In fact, her recipe for zucchini bread is so perfect, I didn’t change it very much. In baking, I almost always switch out vegetable oil or melted butter for olive oil, because I love the richness and slightly herbal flavor it gives to baked goods. She had already done that for me. I almost always add citrus zest to my baked goods, perfuming the muffins or quick breads with the aromatic oils of lemon or orange or grapefruit. She had already added the zest of not one but two lemons, which really sets this recipe apart. The lemon flavor in this bread is pronounced and fantastic. And often I will reduce the sugar in a recipe because I don’t like desserts very sweet, but this bread is already perfectly balanced.
In the end, I only made two changes. I substituted a local whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour, because I love the nutrition the whole grain adds to the bread as well as the nutty flavor. And I substituted coconut sugar for the granulated sugar, because I love the deep caramel flavor of coconut sugar and that it’s an unrefined sugar. It’s the best zucchini bread, and it’s just as good for breakfast with a cup of coffee as it is for dessert.
I included this recipe in my Vibrant Veggies cooking class this week at the Community Food Co-op, and it was one of the favorites of the night. If you would like to know about my upcoming classes and events, follow me on Facebook or Instagram as I’m going to start posting the class schedules there. Or, you can just check my website for a current schedule. I’d love to see you at one of my classes! xo
- 3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
- 2 cups coconut sugar (you can substitute regular sugar)
- Unsalted butter, for the pan
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, sifted, plus more for the pan
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 large eggs
- Grated zest from 2 large lemons
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Unsalted butter
- Crème fraiche (if desired)
- Flaky sea salt (if desired)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a mixing bowl, blend the zucchini with ¼ cup of the coconut sugar. Transfer the mixture to a fine-mesh strainer and set the strainer over the mixing bowl. Fill another bowl, this one just big enough to fit inside the strainer, about halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini. (this process presses the water out of the zucchini.)
- Butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg.
- In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla until well-blended. Bean in the olive oil in three stages, whisking until it is thoroughly combined each time.
- Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white spots remain. Working with a handful of zucchini at a time, use your hands to press and wring all excess moisture out of the zucchini. When all the zucchini has been pressed, add it to the batter, and stir it in gently until evenly distributed.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 70 – 75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
- Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out only a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
- To serve: Cut the bread into 1-inch thick slabs. Melt a little butter (about 1 teaspoon per slice of bread) into a skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and foamy, add the slice or slices of bread and cook for a few minutes on each side, until warm and toasted. If you like, Renee suggests serving the bread over a smear of crème fraiche, sprinkled with sea salt.