Chocolate & zucchini: Chocolate Zucchini Cake

I started writing this nearly a month ago--days before my sister's wedding, when the summer gourds were reproducing like mad in my garden. Well, things went pear shaped (me, the misshapen zucchini, but thankfully not the wedding) and the post went on hold. My sister still got married (hallelujah!) and it's mid September and the zucchini continue to fornicate like rabbits. So I'm in luck, and so are you if you've got pounds of the stuff sitting on your counter or growing like wildfire in the backyard (or on fire sale at the farmer's market). With chocolate is the best way to eat zucchini...or in the dead of winter curried up on a grilled cheese sandwich when the bounty of summer squash dances in your head like a vision (that recipe up next). Until then, I dread a few days away for fear of monster zucchini hiding under the vines, discovered and begging not to be wasted. I was away for a week for my sister's wedding in the middle of August; you might imagine the baseball bat sized wonkers I returned home to. A week is light years in summer garden time. But it was worth it; this was my sister after all, Squirt. Her name isn't really Squirt, it's Maria, but I can't quite give up the diminutive. She is my little, youngest, and only sister. And she got married on a stunning Pacific Northwest day at a winery in the Willamette Valley to a man who makes her shine, laugh, and want to love until eternity. He also loves to vacuum. Sounds a little too perfect. But they are: perfect for each other.

They both have a similar disregard for the squash family, raw onions, and uncooked tomatoes, and an uncommon hankering for medium-rare steak. I have no idea how she and I (indiscriminate vegetable lover that I am), grew up in the same family. She pushed the beans aside and tucked into a slab of meat and I did the reverse. But I'm thrilled she found Scott, and wish them many blissful years of carpet lines akin to the fairways at Augusta National and squash-free meals, with the exception of this cake, of course, which even Maria grew up eating with abandon. I'd thank our mother for sneaking vegetables into a cake, but honestly, the only reason this continually appeared on the table and made it into my repertoire is because it tastes damn good. We had our fair share of vegetables growing up, but there was never a fear of, or lack of dessert. Dessert was just what one did, and as often as possible. Why waste time with one hiding vegetables unless it tasted even better than one without?

So I share this family recipe for Chocolate Zucchini Cake with you, in Maria's honor. To honor the girl who wouldn't touch a vegetable if it wasn't peas until she was probably 22, especially not zucchini. Chocolate -- she could handle chocolate, but she prefers her sugar mixed with corn syrup and dusted in citric acid, usually in the form of a ring or a gumdrop. Despite being a dark brunette with smoky brown eyes, when you see her eating gumdrops, you know she's my kin. So let there be zucchini, but smother it in butter, sugar, and chocolate and call it cake. Before you know it you'll be eating zucchini for breakfast-- with a dollop of whipped cream on the side, I hope.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Makes 1 9-inch bundt cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup coconut oil (vegetable oil works as well)

1 3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup sour milk (to sour milk, add 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar to 1/2 cup milk and set at room temperature for 15-20 minutes)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I have also used whole wheat pastry flour with good results)

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups grated zucchini

1/2 cup good quality chocolate chips, chunks, or shavings

Powdered sugar for serving.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a stand mixer fit with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Turn mixer to high and add eggs and vanilla. Scrape down the bowl, add milk and beat until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix together flour, cocoa, cloves, cinnamon, baking soda and powder, and salt. Add to the batter about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly until completely combined. Stir in zucchini.

Butter and flour baking pan (9x9x2) or bundt pan. Sprinke 1/4 cup chocolate chips on the bottom of pan. Pour batter evenly into pan and sprinkle remaining chips on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 325 degrees. Check cake at earliest time. It is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let rest in the pan on a cooling rack until cool. Invert onto a plate and dust with powdered sugar before serving. It's lovely with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream on the side. And it's even better the next day.