Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer, By Way of The Spice Trade: Orange-Flower Zucchini Bread with Pistachios

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For most people, Summer means time for fresh, locally-grown produce.

(Not to rub it in, but out here in California, we get the good stuff year round. And there's no humidity. And you can ski and swim in the ocean in the same day. Sure, I'll wait while you book your plane tickets.)

And when it comes to that produce, no vegetable is as prodigious in July and August as the mighty zucchini (a.k.a. summer squash). Sold for cents on the pound, it's a versatile and welcome harbinger of warm weather wherever it appears. Have you had the little two or three inch ones, boiled in salted water and covered with fresh, green olive oil? Or what about the big baseball bats, sliced into long thick strips and thrown on the grill, as meaty and juicy as the best sirloin? Heck, you can even eat the stuff raw.

Of course, my favorite use for zucchini is to grate it and whip it into sweet, perfumed bread. It's light, healthy enough for breakfast, and bears within it just the slightest nod towards the cinnamon and nutmeg-laden season of Fall yet to come.

While there are plenty of old-school zucchini bread recipes out there, I've recently gotten into the mood of introducing some traditional Persian flavors -- pistachio and orange flower water -- into this summer classic. Let's get right to it.

Orange-Flower Zucchini Bread with Pistachios
Produces two 8 x 4 loafs, or 30 standard-sized muffins, or one 8 x 4 loaf and 15 muffins . . .

3 Large Eggs
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 and 1/4 Cups White Sugar
4 cups grated Green Zucchini (about two medium-to-large sized squashes)
2 teaspoons Orange Flower Water
3 and 2/3 Cups all-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
3 teaspoons Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 and 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/2 to 3/4ths cup shelled Green Pistachios

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Start by mixing together the eggs, oil, sugar, salt, and Orange Flower Water in a large mixing bowl. The ratios here make for a lightly sweet bread; if you want to really taste the squash, cut the sugar down to one cup; if you want to give your dentist more money, go up to 1 and 1/2 or even 1 and 3/4ths cups.

It's time to grate your zucchini using a box grater or food processor. You want good-sized shreds. Ball-park the measurement to around four cups; if you're a little over, a little under, no big whoop. Just toss it in to the egg/oil/sugar mixture and stir to blend.

After that, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a separate bowl. Toss the shelled pistachios into the flour mixture to coat (this will keep them from all sinking to the bottom). Finally, s-l-o-w-l-y and gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet until just mixed.

Place the batter (it should be loose, but substantial) into the refrigerator for 30 minutes. If you're making loaves, coat your pans well with more vegetable oil and flour; you don't want to have trouble freeing the bread later. Be sure to tap out the excess flour into the trash. If you're going to make muffins, use non-stick paper cupcake liners.

After 30 minutes has passed, stir the batter briefly (to make sure the pistachios are still in suspension) and pour into your baking vessels of choice. Bake muffins for 20 minutes, loaves for 50. Before you remove everything from the oven, test the bread with a skewer or sharp knife to make sure everything's cooked through.

The final product:

This is an absolutely treeeeemendous treat; a riot of perfumed orange, creamy, dense pistachio, and the comforting, steady beat of classic zucchini bread pulsing underneath. Make it now, and eat it hot. If you really have a death-wish/appreciation-of-the-good-things-in-life, fry thick slices of it in butter. You won't regret it.

Music: Spın̈al Tap: "(Listen to the) Flower People"

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