I used to not “get” zucchini bread. Out of all the baked goods in this world, why would you choose zucchini bread? It’s a vegetable dessert. It’s a sugary-sweet cake with something green snuck in. It’s what you resort to when you’ve got bushels of zucchini to use up and you’re sick of zucchini. I wasn’t into it.
Of course, then I found myself with zucchini to use up, and I was sick of zucchini. So I decided to cry uncle and do some baking. And it occurred to me that, after all, zucchini bread is just a hop, skip and a jump from carrot cake, which I adore. Carrot cake isn’t really about the carrots; they’re there for texture and moisture, maybe a bit of color, but not so much for their intrinsic carrot-ness. But the best carrot cakes, in my opinion, are unmistakable for what they are; they’re not spice cakes, or raisin-and-nut loaves. You wouldn’t think of removing the carrots, or replacing them with something else. They’re essential to the cake itself. So why not think of zucchini bread the same way?
I tinkered with a pretty standard recipe I found online, and came up with something that–to my surprise–I liked quite a lot. It’s a zucchini bread that almost walks the line between sweet and savory. It’s definitely a cake, but with half the sugar, a bit of whole wheat flour, and a perk of olive oil. The zucchini flavor is clear–not pronounced, just a hint of grassiness in the background. A few of us ate half the loaf for dessert after a light Sunday lunch, and it was perfect; the rest got bundled along for breakfast on the go the next morning, and it was great for that too.
One note: even though I’m calling this an “olive oil” bread, I actually use 1 part extra virgin olive oil to 2 parts canola oil. I’m not crazy about using all extra virgin olive oil in baked goods like this, since I think the flavor overwhelms. But I do like a bit more oomph than you’d get with just regular olive oil, and this ratio does it for me. Feel free to adjust the proportion of olive to canola oil as you like–you’ll need 3/4 cup oil in total.
Olive Oil Zucchini Bread (makes one 9×5 loaf)
1 1/4 lb zucchini (about 3 medium)
2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (113 g) whole wheat flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp (4 g) baking powder
1 tsp (6 g) coarse salt
1/2 tsp (3 g) baking soda
1/2 cup (120 ml) canola oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 packed cup (110 g) brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup toasted chopped walnuts (optional)
Special equipment: one 9×5 loaf pan
Preheat the oven to 350º F, and position an oven rack in the middle. Grease and flour a 9×5 loaf pan, or grease and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
Trim the ends of the zucchini, and coarsely grate using a box grater or food processor. Transfer the zucchini to a bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel or several layers of cheesecloth. Gather up the cloth into a bundle and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together canola oil, olive oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients. Mix until about half-combined, then add the drained zucchini and walnuts (if using). Mix just until the last streaks of flour are incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and gently even out the top. Bake for 1 hour to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let the bread cool in the pan on the rack for 10-15 minutes, then turn it out onto the rack and let cool completely.
Make ahead/leftovers: Wrap the whole loaf or individual slices tightly in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. The bread will keep at room temperature overnight, in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.