Using seasonal abundance from CSAs
Right now I have eight medium-to-large zucchini in my refrigerator just waiting for me to decide their ultimate fate. Why? I joined Maple Spring Gardens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Cedar Grove, this spring.
Unfamiliar with CSAs? You pay a local farmer to deliver a portion of his crops for the entire growing season (roughly 23 weeks). A whole bunch of folks pay in advance and the farmer is guaranteed a market for his produce. Prices vary from farm to farm, but my CSA cost $630 for a big box (4-6 people) and $435 for a small box (1-3 people).
Some of my office mates worked it out with the farmer to get deliveries at work each week -- quite convenient! Most other CSAs deliver to a central pickup spot where members go to pick up their box.
My local CSA was once a certified organic grower supplying local Whole Foods' stores. After considering the expense and record-keeping required to maintain organic certification, the farmer decided to sell his non-certified, but still grown by the same methods, produce direct to customers through a CSA.
In the spring, my first box contained two pints of strawberries, one pound of spinach, one head of lettuce, one bunch of kale, one bundle of asparagus, one bunch of radishes and one small bag of salad mix. The following week was similar except five zucchini appeared. The next week there were five more zucchini.
I've also gotten two beautiful cauliflower heads, the freshest broccoli I've ever had (looked like it was picked that day) and a large fennel head (from which I'll make fennel slaw). Yummmmmmm.
Opening up my CSA box I feel like a chef on the Food Network's "Chopped," where four chefs open a black box to see what ingredients hide inside and then have 20-some minutes to make something using all those ingredients. It's fun.
In the past few weeks I've created salads, roasted veggies and created a tasty summer delight -- thinly sliced radishes and a smear of sweet butter on whole grain bread with a light sprinkle of salt.
The strawberries were everything a strawberry should be, deeply red, no white core, with a big strawberry flavor. My partner, Nannette, turned those into sensational strawberry freezer jam. Lucky me!
When it came to the zucchini I was glad I had smaller squash on my box. I remember Grandmother Mauer overcooking huge, overmatured zucchini until it ended up as a stringy, mushy mess with tough seeds. Today I cook zucchini quickly so it's not mushy and the skin still looks bright green. Zucchini has a light flavor profile and plays well with other vegetables. Plus, one cup of sliced zucchini delivers a mere 19 calories.
Here's a recipe to help use up some of the seasonal abundance that might be overloading your refrigerator as it is mine. If you like chocolate, you're gonna love this quick bread. Give it a try.
Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread
1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored applesauce
3 cups (16 ounces) grated zucchini
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
6 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder (I used 3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa and 3 tablespoons Hershey Special Dark cocoa)
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mini-morsel chocolate chips
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Place a wire mesh strainer over a bowl sufficiently deep to keep the strainer from touching the bowl’s bottom and to it add the applesauce. Set aside.
Place the oven rack in the center position and begin heating the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a vegetable oil spray with flour, lightly spray the interior bottom and sides of two 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pans. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl mix together topping ingredients. Set aside.
By the handful, over the sink, squeeze grated zucchini to remove extra liquid, place squeezed handfuls in a small bowl and set aside.
Add flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda and salt to a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until combined, about 30 seconds. Add chocolate chips to a small mixing bowl, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture and stir and fold until coated with flour. Set aside.
Measure out 1/4-cup drained applesauce and add it, olive oil and sugars to a large mixing bowl and beat for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the bowl’s sides and add eggs, sour cream and vanilla; mix at medium speed for 1 minute or until well combined.
If using a stand mixer, remove the bowl from the stand, add flour mixture and using a large rubber spatula stir and fold until flour mixture is blended-in. Add zucchini and stir and fold until combined and then stir and fold in chocolate chips.
Divide batter equally between the two pans; leveling the tops. Divide and sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the batter. Bake 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each loaf comes out almost clean. (It is okay if a few crumbs stick to the toothpick.) Remove the pans from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Turn the breads out of the pans and cool completely. Each loaf serves 8.
Nutrition values per serving: 239 calories (30 percent from fat), 7.9 g fat (2.8 g saturated fat), 40.3 g carbohydrates, 1.1 g fiber, 3.9 g protein, 44 mg cholesterol, 137 mg sodium.
Recipe notes: The grated zucchini is squeezed to remove as much moisture as possible. The chips are coated with the flour mixture to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the batter.