I never had any experience with gardening until Dustin and I planted our first garden together two years ago. I was woefully uneducated in the art of growing anything, and Dustin chuckled to himself when I came home with 8 tomato plants, 8 cucumber plants, and 8 zucchini plants, which I planted in a row, all about 4 inches apart from each other. How was I supposed to know that plants get big...I mean really big? So, I learned my lesson that first year, when our little raised garden looked like a miniature jungle. And yet despite my folly, we had a big and bountiful harvest, and our gardening endeavors and aspirations have grown each year since then. I will never go another year in my life without planting a garden, for there is nothing better in the summer than walking into your backyard, and returning to the house with an armload of what will become your dinner.
I knew we were going to be bombarded with more zucchini than we could handle, so I started planning early which recipes I most wanted to try once the harvest was upon us. I made a handful of dishes, both sweet and savory during the past month, all starring zucchini. Our favorite savory dish was the Pappardelle with Zucchini and Mint Parsley Pesto, from this month's Food and Wine. With long strips of zucchini, chewy pappardelle, and the bright taste of the pesto, full of the clean and refreshing flavors of mint and parsley, this dish was simple and satisfying, and wonderful alongside a nice cold glass of white wine.
And our favorite sweet dish? Zucchini and Ginger Cupcakes from Gourmet last month. The recipe was just different enough, that I couldn't resist trying it. Most zucchini and loaf cakes, for that matter, contain somewhat shocking amounts of sugar and oil, so when I read that this recipe used olive oil, and honey for the sweetener, I was intrigued. I knew the honey would contribute an incredible amount of moisture, which it did, and the olive oil was indiscernable as a flavor, but I loved using it instead of corn or canola oil. The cakes are delicate, and just lightly sweet, which was a welcome contrast to the absolutely delicious cream cheese frosting. The frosting was made of mostly cream cheese, with a few tablespoons of butter, and a relatively small amount of powdered sugar. I loved the addition of cinnamon and ground ginger, which gave the frosting a speckled and golden appearance, and added an interesting and somewhat sophisticated note to the cupcake.
I made a few changes to the recipe, like using 25% whole wheat flour, and using Neufetchal instead of full-fat cream cheese. I also only had extra-virgin olive oil in the pantry, so I used that, and found no issue with the flavor. I had also forgotten to pick up an orange at the store, so I used a little orange juice instead in the frosting, and I used some candied orange peel in the cakes, but next time I will definitely use the orange zest both in the cupcake and in the frosting, because I always love the addition of orange zest, and I think it would add a welcome "high note" in the flavors. I also garnished with some candied ginger, which the recipe doesn't call for, but which they show in the picture. I also happen to love raisins, so next time I make these, I will throw some rum-soaked raisins in the batter....because there will definitely be a next time!
Zucchini Ginger Cupcakes
Gourmet Magazine, Fresh from the Farm, July 2006
1/3 cup crystallized ginger (1 3/4 oz), coarsely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 teaspoon groung ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup mild olive oil
3/4 cup mild honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 oz cream cheese or neufetchal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Pulse the crystallized ginger in a food processor until finely ground, then add flour, ginger, cinnamon, zest, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, and pulse until combined.
Whisk together the zucchini, oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl, then stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Bake until golden, and a tester inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 20-24 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, one hour.
Beat together frosting ingredients with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Frost the tops of the cool cupcakes, and garnish with crystallized ginger chips, if desired.
The cupcakes can be made one day ahead and stored in an airtight container.