To peel or not to peel … That was the question I faced this past Sunday as I prepared to bake my first loaf of zucchini bread ever—at age 33. How did I get to this age and never make zucchini bread? I don’t know. At any rate, I stood there with a giant green zucchini in my hand, looking to the photocopied cookbook recipes my mother-in-law had given me. The two of the three recipes on the sheet that she said she’d tried before called for “peeled, grated zucchini.” I never would have doubted the seemingly innocuous word peeled if I hadn’t just read in my Joy of Cooking that you should never peel summer squash. But both tried-and-true recipes called for peeled zucchini. I was frozen by the dilemma.
Never is a strong word. If someone used the word never to describe peeling zucchini, then why was “peeled, peeled, peeled” plastered all over the cookbook page in front of me?
One of the recipes said that the zucchini could be left unpeeled if it were a small one. There was no mention of why you ought to peel a big zucchini—and this zucchini was definitely big. Admittedly, I have little experience in comparing zucchini sizes, but the friend at work who had grown the zucchini had said casually, “It’s kind of a big one,” so I knew it was big.
I thought about taking a chance. Hadn’t I seen little green specks in zucchini bread I’d eaten before? Surely those specks were bits of zucchini peel… surely it was acceptable to take a chance.
But I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t break with the recipe, couldn’t venture out into the unknown without some assurance that It Would Be Okay, that peel would not ruin the bread. So I peeled my zucchini.
It was surprisingly easy to peel. I used my little metal vegetable peeler, and found the zucchini peeled much easier than a carrot and was entirely peeled in a minute or two. Once done, I found myself with a slick, naked zucchini, ready to grate.
Grate ideas …
Grating ought to be easy too. It probably would have been, if:
- My grater weren’t coming apart because I am too cheap to buy a new one yet.
- I’d tried grating it into something larger than my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup.
- I’d thought to cut the zucchini into manageable, easier-to-grate pieces.
- I hadn’t peeled the zucchini.
It isn’t easy at all to hold a large zucchini with no peel by one slippery end and slide it vigorously across an old grater that has to be held together with one hand and gripped carefully over the center of a smallish measuring cup.
At the beginning of the process, the zucchini slid around on the grater. I had to resort to wrapping the end in a dishcloth while I grated, but before long, the dishcloth was in the way of the zucchini and the grater and I had to go back to using my bare hands. It’s better to use your bare hands anyway, so you can really feel and control your movements—however inexperienced they might be.
Eventually the zucchini was grated, although much of it had to be salvaged from the counter top and added furtively to the small amount of zucchini that had actually fallen in the measuring cup. I say “furtively,” because whenever I scoop ingredients off the counter and use them, I worry that Chef Gordon Ramsey of TV-cooking-and-restaurant-show fame is going to see what I have done and scream at me that I am a bleeping something-or-other—and a total pig on top of that.
But there was little chance that Chef Ramsey would appear, and I had to salvage as much zucchini as possible.
I must digress to share some things I learned about zucchini during this process:
- Zucchini has a lot of water in it and becomes really pulpy when grated. I had to wipe the grater dry several times.
- Being so pulpy, zucchini will jam up your grater, so clean out the grater’s holes frequently for best grating results.
- Zucchini have seeds.
Should I have known all this already? No doubt I should be pitied or locked out of my kitchen. But I had to share, because all of this was news to me.
The seeds, for some reason, particularly surprised me. Of course zucchini would have seeds, but when I saw the first one, I stopped grating, picked it up carefully, and thought, “Ain’t that something?”
Oil and Apple Sauce …
With the zucchini grated and the seeds duly inspected, I was ready to mix my ingredients. I expected this part of the process to be uneventful. Everything did go smoothly until it was time to add one cup of oil. I saw quickly that I wasn’t going to have enough oil to fill a cup. So what did I do?
I used one half cup oil and one half cup apple sauce. What cook hasn’t tried this or a similar substitution from time to time?
But I worried about the apple sauce. While some experts blithely recommend substituting apple sauce for oil, I’ve learned the hard way that the apple sauce can change the taste, the texture, and more of whatever you’re trying to bake. I once produced a rather unusual giant oatmeal chocolate chip cookie as a result of substituting apple sauce for oil, but that’s a story for another time.
In this situation, the alternatives to using apple sauce were to use peanut oil or olive oil, and the former sounded slightly nauseating while the latter meant using the last of the most expensive oil in my house in one fell swoop. I measure my olive oil use in teaspoons, not cups. The stuff is precious. For these logical reasons, I settled on apple sauce as the solution and tried to put certain horrible former experiences out of my mind.
Approximately one hour passed, the bread tested “done” with a toothpick stabbed repeatedly into the center (I just couldn’t trust the first, or second or third stab), and I set my culinary work on the stove top to cool. Probably I had been silly to worry about the apple sauce
Two days later …
My overpoweringly apple-flavored bread sits on my counter now, tasting nothing like any zucchini bread anyone has ever served me, with the distinctive green specks noticeably absent. I miss those specks. Worse, one of the loaves is held together only by the Press-N-Seal plastic wrapped around it. It looks mutilated.
Honestly, the bread just didn’t hold together very well, thanks to the apple sauce. And yes, I swear the loaf pan was well-greased—I’ve already been questioned on that topic. I’m telling you, even if you grease your loaf pan well, beware—if you’ve used apple sauce in place of oil, you’ve lost some of your binding power.
True, that may not have been entirely the fault of the apple sauce. Apparently one should let loaves of bread cool before one attempts to pry them from the plan with a knife. I read that somewhere, but it sounded unimportant at the time. Well, who knew? I thought maybe loaves of bread went on cooking like eggs do if you don’t take them from the dish they’ve been cooked in.
In addition to that thing about letting bread cool being a matter of actual import, I also learned, through a web search today, that people who know how to cook don’t peel the zucchini for zucchini bread. This is backed up by real-life sources, including one friend who laughed her head off at the idea of someone peeling a zucchini before making bread with it.
I laughed too—it all seems so obvious, in retrospect.
Time for more confession: frankly, the bread shames me. Every time I look at it on the counter, I cringe. I remember things I could have done differently. I want to give it away—but as an adult, I bear the responsibility for my own actions, and so I must keep and eat the bread. And force my husband to eat some. He claims it tastes good, just kind of—well, apple-y.
But there’s always a sunny side, isn’t there? The bread is delightfully moist. And if you didn’t know it was supposed to be plain old classic zucchini bread, the apple taste would be kind of nice.
That is how it would be described in my cookbook—moist and fragrant with apple—if I ever published such a cookbook. You’d find this description under the entry “Apple Zucchini Bread,” perhaps with a little introduction noting, in light-hearted language, that the recipe was developed through a happy accident.
Yeah, definitely “happy.” Later, that’s how I’ll tell it.