Sweet sweet Friday: Spicy Zucchini Cakes

Remember the giant marrow? After slow-cooking half of it and stir-frying another large chunk, the rest of it went into these spicy cakes.

Spicy Zucchini Cakes
These are really just carrot cake in disguise, but I wanted to share this recipe with you because it’s much more finely textured than most vegetable cakes. It could be the amazing marrow, but I suspect it’s got more to do with the method, in which you beat lots of lovely air into the eggs and sugar.
You can ice these however you like – cream cheese icing is the obvious choice – but here I’ve used a light drizzle of icing sugar, orange juice and orange blossom water a la Nigel Slater. It’s not as easy to photograph, but it tastes delicious.

280g flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
250g caster sugar
180ml vegetable oil
180g grated zucchini (about two)
2 Tbsp poppy seeds
finely grated zest of an orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin tin (or baby loaf or bundt tins) – or a 23cm springform cake tin.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Beat the eggs and sugar together, either in a freestanding mixer or using an electric whisk, until thick and pale. Slowly drizzle in the oil, still whisking until it is well incorporated (a bit like making mayonnaise).
Mix in the zucchini, poppy seeds and zest, then gently fold in dry ingredients until evenly combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean (a cake will take about an hour). Let cool for 10 minutes, then take out of the tins (I use a plastic knife to dig muffins out of tins without heartbreak). Set aside to cool completely on a rack before icing.

Orange Drizzle Icing (with thanks to Nigel Slater)
Mix about 10 Tbsp of icing sugar with 1tsp orange blossom water and 1tsp orange or lemon juice. Add a little more orange/lemon juice until you get the right drizzly consistency.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday and a happy weekend!

Autumn Sunset Salad

The clocks have gone forward and winter is opening up before us like an abyss. At least, that’s what it feels like at the moment, with wind whistling around the house like a malevolent spirit and rain lashing the windows. I know there are lots of good things about the cooler months (red wine, slow-cooked lamb, soup, woolly hats) but I’m not ready to embrace them just yet.

Autumn Sunset Salad
The Saturday market is full of beetroot and pumpkin that I stash in the bottom of the pram beneath pungent bouquets of coriander and mint (since our plants legged it long ago) – and this is what I’ve been doing with them. This owes a lot to a Julie Le Clerc recipe – the dressing is pretty much hers – but I’ve ditched the chickpeas and added beetroot. Scatter some crumbled feta or toasted nuts over the top for a protein hit. This makes enough for four hungry people as generous side dish or lunch.

1/2 a pumpkin, seeded and cut into small chunks (don’t worry about peeling it, the skin is delicious roasted)
1 large beetroot, cut into small chunks
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a large roasting dish with foil, then tip the pumpkin and beetroot into it. Drizzle with oil and toss well with your hands. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, until tender (the beetroot may take a little longer). Set aside and let cool.

3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I buy the dried sort in packets, as if they were dried apricots – if you use the ones packed in oil, reduce the oil below accordingly)
3Tbsp red wine vinegar
2Tbsp hot water
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper

Put the sun-dried tomatoes, water and vinegar into a small bowl and let sit for 20-30 minutes (to soften the tomatoes), then tip into a food processor. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and whiz until it forms a chunky puree. Taste for seasoning, add a little water if it seems very thick. Toss this through the cooled, roasted vegetables. Sprinkle with a handful of coarsely chopped coriander and mint and serve.

In case of emergency, break open giant marrow…

Thank you all for your suggestions as to what to do with the monster zucchini. My favourite is this one from Sasa – “I vote keep it under the bed in case of intruders” – but it was great to be reminded about the merits of turning it into cake, soup, pie or stuffing it.

Yesterday I found something else to do with it (dismissing the suggestion from a colleague that the best place for it was the compost) – which means I can now turn the other half into cake. Or soup. Or pie. Sorry Sasa, I’ll just have to beat off intruders with the rolling pin.

Slow-cooked zucchini and potato salad
I use the term salad loosely – this is the sort of thing you can eat hot or room temperature. It looks a little khaki in the photo, but I like to think that it has a sort of rustic, peasanty charm (and it tastes great).

2Tbsp olive oil
about 4 zucchini (or half a large marrow), cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 heaped tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
4-5 newish potatoes, cut into chunks
salt and pepper
lemon juice
fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, then throw in the zucchini, garlic, onion, coriander seeds and potatoes. Saute for a minute or two over medium heat so everything is coated in the oil, then add a splash of water (maybe 1/4 cup?) and some salt and pepper. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and cook for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked. Remove to a serving dish and taste for seasoning. Drizzle with more oil and the lemon juice, then scatter over some chopped parsley. Best served at room temperature (we had it with lamb cooked on the barbecue and a green salad).

Beware of gardeners with gifts…

Our zucchini plant flowered beautifully, but produced one tiny fruit about the length of my little finger. Anna and Jeremy’s zucchini plants have been feasting on organic compost and other mystery nutrients and their produce go from little to large overnight. Oh how we all laughed when I asked if they waited until one zucchini was big enough to feed their whole family before they picked it. Then they sent me home with one.

Guess which one of these specimens came from the supermarket?

Dear readers, what do I do with it? This beast won’t fit in the fridge and it’s making all the other vegetables feel inadequate (not to mention taking up valuable bench space). Help!

A peck of unpickled peppers

Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day of the summer. Yeah, right. While parts of the country sweated it out in 40C-plus, we were stuck indoors while gale-force winds whistled around the house and rattled the windows. Now, with rain coursing down, I feel extremely cheated of the summer we were promised.

One good thing about all this rain though is that our vegetable patch is becoming incredibly lush and jungle-like. Sure, most of the cherry tomatoes probably won’t survive the rain, but the peppers and chillies are producing amazing crops and the basil has grown into a veritable forest. We’ve been picking the peppers while they’re still green – it’s not hot enough here for them to go red – and they’re so much nicer than the tough, bitter ones available in the shops. Having said that though, peppers of all colours are now really cheap so I’ve been buying red and orange ones, then tucking our precious green ones in between when I make this baked peppers dish.

Newtownese Peppers (with apologies to Elizabeth David)
This can be adapted to suit the number of people you are feeding (and how greedy they are). If it’s the main vegetable component of a meal, I’d go for two peppers per person (especially if they are homegrown ones).

Peppers of assorted colours
Garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the peppers in half and strip out the seeds. Lie them on a shallow-sided baking dish (they will shrink as they cook, so it’s fine for them to be quite snug). Put a few slices of garlic, a few cherry tomatoes and a few olives into each half. Drizzle over some olive oil, then grind over some salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes. Eat them hot, room temperature or cold, depending on how hot (or cold) it is outside. Strew with torn-up basil leaves just before serving.