If you, like me, were the recent recipient of an armload of blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair-worthy summer squash, then most certainly you are, like me, currently thinking yourself spectacularly spoiled.

But then, if you're one of those industrious types that grows their own squash, then maybe you're looking for a way to use up the proliferous buggers.

In either case, if need be, I may have the means to the end of your zucchini supply, specifically by way of chocolate olive oil zucchini bread.

I had some difficulty with this bread, not in its making but in its naming, as while the sum of the parts is what we're all here for, each of those parts has an indespensible role to play.

I put the chocolate first, because one glance at this quick bread and there's no mistaking the presence of cocoa. Chopped semisweet chocolate mollifies the tobacco-darkness of that cocoa powder; the irregular shards melt into the bread so that here and there within the crumb are damp pockets of sweetness. 

The olive oil is the surprise, tasting resiny and somehow green. The one I used makes me think of lemons and fields of newly-mown hay, which feels right for something you're baking at summer's height. 

The zucchini is, of course the main event, and so gets the glory of the final fanfare. There's a full four cups of it in the recipe, divided between two loaves. The pale shreds weave through the batter, so the resulting breads are gratifyingly bulging with bumps and crags, shot through and through with specks of green. It's a bread that does not pretend to be anything other than what it is, and that's an (albeit tasty) conveyance for terrific quantities of summer squash. 

All that said, I could have mentioned the walnuts. They're toasted, so that their fatty waxiness is made snappy and their aromatic bitterness is amplified. Along with the olive oil you've got a winner of a combination, so much so that the nuts were this close to headline status. 

The buttermilk too, it could have been up there in lights, because this bread would be so much less without the spring in the crumb - the crumb has weight without being weighed down, and the buttermilk's to thank for that. It steers the bread away from residence in the land of cake and clears the way for having some for breakfast. 

Exceptional with coffee, this bread's not so much suited to a fork, but instead the sort you use your fingers to break chunks off a slice, to be eaten in between paragraphs as you read the paper. 

There's what's left of a loaf on the counter and it's my plan for tomorrow morning. If you'd like, I'll set an extra place.

CHOCOLATE OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD

The method for this bread is the standard muffin or quick bread style; wet ingredients stirred briefly into the dry. No mixer required, with two bowls and a spoon and you're set.

Ingredients

  • Softened butter, for pans
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups fine-grained turbinado sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups shredded zucchini, see note

Method

Preheat an oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with softened butter. Use a length of parchment to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter the parchment as well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in the chopped walnuts and chocolate. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugar and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stir until combined, taking care not over mix. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, which should be around 50 minutes. Cool loaves in their pans on a rack for 20 minutes, then grasp the edges of the parchment to ease the bread out.

If you can wait long enough to let them cool to room temperature before slicing, then well done. But if you can't wait, and cut the loaves into ragged pieces while still warm, then I can't say I blame you.

Makes 2 loaves.

Notes:

  • For the zucchini, I use the grating attachment on my food processor, taking care not to press down on the feed tube plunger while the machine is running - this gives a light, feathery shredding. Since we want a bread that is damp but not sodden, I sprinkle the emerald-tipped strands across a (lint-free) kitchen towel, then place another atop, patting it down gently. After a few minutes the towels will have absorbed some of the excess liquid and the zucchini is left crisp and ready to go.
  • If olive oil is not your thing, then it can be replaced by an equal amount of neutral oil or melted butter. With the latter, the bread will be denser and, as it lacks the mitigating edge of olive oil, it will taste sweeter as well.
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Every year, without fail, there is a certain door in our house that becomes stuck. It's only one door, and it's not irrevocably jammed, only enough to make its presence known. And not for all that long, only a week or two tops, when the combination of heat and humidity comes together in such a way that either the floor heaves or the door swells - we're not exactly sure which.

That particular circumstance occurred in the middle of September this time around, when we had cool mornings but summery afternoons. That week the socks we put on with a shiver before breakfast were discarded with a huff by noon.

Said door got stuck halfway between open and closed, leaving you with the option to either give it a solid hip-check into obedience or turn your body such that you can scoot your way through. Being resistant when it comes to confrontation, I choose the latter approach - meaning that for the last few days I have found myself ambling sideways through the front hall with embarssing regularity.

This morning the door swung open freely, in a swift unencumbered arc. October was a month we'd face head on. Howdy to you. And you too, Autumn.

We had our first dalliance with comely autumn and all of its trappings a few days earlier; last Saturday we went slightly mad with autumnal cliché. There were orchards with the first leaves scattered between rows, and apple picking and cider too. And then an Apple Almond Cake followed soon after. But it was only yesterday that I faced the season squarely.

I made soup. And since the colour will soon be scarce around here I made a soup that was patently green.

Our big, enameled cast iron pot took its place on the stove, squat and welcoming. Zucchini and onions into a bath of olive oil and butter, shallots and garlic arriving at the last minute. The rest is pretty much a call of everybody into the pool, when broccoli joins the party and bubbles away until tender. A leafy tumble of spinach wilts into the soft vegetables, and then its all buzzed until smooth. With austerity most certainly against my nature, a spiky dollop of crème fraîche blended with horseradish was the final flourish.

And if you were to say, smear some of that crème fraîche upon some golden toast soldiers for dipping, I would not bat a lash. In fact, I might just think that you're exactly my kind of person.

ZUCCHINI + BROCCOLI SOUP WITH HORSERADISH CRÈME FRAÎCHE

With some inspiration from Molly. The cream is a variation on this mayonnaise, and it is its sinus-clearing intensity that acts as a foil for the sweet subtlety of the soup. The broccoli should be cut into smallish chunks so that the vegetables only take the briefest amount of time to cook, thereby preserving as much of their colour as possible.

FOR THE SOUP

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound zucchini, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound broccoli, stems and crowns, cut into chunks
  • 4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • Rind from a piece of Parmesan cheese, mine was about 3x2 inches
  • 2 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

FOR THE HORSERADISH CRÈME FRAÎCHE

  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter into the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and onion and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender but without colour, around 10 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir the broccoli through the other vegetables.

Pour in around 4 to 4 1/2 cups of stock, just enough to submerge the vegetables. Tuck in the Parmesan rind. Raise the heat to bring to the boil then reduce to maintain a simmer, leaving partially covered to cook for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender.

Meanwhile, stir together the ingredients for the horseradish crème fraîche in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the spinach and once it's wilted, purée the soup with an immersion blender, adding some of the reserved stock if necessary to achieve your preferred consistency. Check for seasoning and serve with crème fraîche alongside.

Serves 6-8.

Notes:

• Although I have not included specifics, I try to layer flavours here, seasoning with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process (while sautéeing the vegetables, upon adding the stock, and then to finish). It is hard to pinpoint exact amounts, but taste often and season as you go. A light touch is best; you can always add more at the end.

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I know that I am a bit early for our usual Thursday chat, but I made this tart last night and liked it so much that I couldn't wait five whole days to tell you about it.

As with so many happy accidents, I came about this success without paying much attention. It is the improvised partnership of recipes from others I admire, brought together by the downright-unglamorous need to clean out the fridge on Friday night before Saturday's trip to the market.

Heidi's Lasagna Tart was an instant favourite in our kitchen, first made within days of her kindly sharing the recipe. The barely-cooked sauce and the raw zucchini keep the flavour remarkably fresh and light even after baking, while the ricotta layer brings creamy relief to all that acidity. I have used the olive oil crust she provided, as well as the Parmesan variation she suggests. Both to great acclaim.

I had never made Rachel's Tomato and Zucchini Tart before, but is a recipe that piqued my interest. Instead of sauce hers has tomato slices, roasted briefly along with the summer squash to concentrate and sweeten their flavours. And her cobblestoned topping of fresh mozzarella is far from a bad thing.

Since yesterday brought rain and temperatures that bespoke the quick arrival of fall, I chose to take elements from each. I wanted a dish that brought some comfort, but didn't ignore that fact that it is still August. What follows is what I think I did, written without formality and with only my best estimates of quantities and timing.

I had not intended this tart as anything greater than our evening's meal. And so, to be safe, let me emphasize the essential parts of my hastily-scribbled instructions; sticky caramelized onions line a butter-laden crust, profoundly rich and yet well-matched by a smear of sharp, young cheese. Atop that are tiles of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, softening into each other, lush with their juices.

The final effect is one of substance without brawn, something so good that I had to share.

Happy weekend.

LATE SUMMER VEGETABLE TART

My adaptation of recipes from Rachel and Heidi, with thanks. The amounts and particulars below for the filling are a non-specific guideline. I was working with what we had on hand, but feel free to make omissions and substitutions to best suit your tastes (and contents of your fridge).

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 shallots, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves picked from their stems, plus more for garnish
  • 2 beefsteak tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, I used a mix of varieties and sizes
  • 4 ounces herbed unripened goat's cheese
  • Parmesan cheese (an ounce or so)
  • Fresh mozzarella (around 1/2 a large ball)
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 9-inch pastry shell of your choice, partially baked (see note)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Take the eggplant and zucchini slices and toss in a large bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt. Transfer the slices to a colander and leave to drain.

In a medium skillet over medium-low heat, cook the onions and shallots in bit of olive oil, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, or when the onions and shallots are lightly-caramelized and starting to catch in places, add the garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes more, so that the garlic has chance to mellow and soften. Pour in the vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping and the bottom of the skillet with your spoon to pick up any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so, until most of the vinegar has evaporated. Remove the vegetables from the heat and stir in the thyme. Set aside.

Pat dry the eggplant and zucchini on a (non-terrycloth) kitchen towel. Coat the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes in olive oil lay them out in a single layer on baking sheets. Season all with pepper, the tomatoes with salt too. Roast vegetables in the preheated oven, working in batches, until the vegetables are just beginning to brown in spots, around 20 minutes. Although the tomatoes were too delicate for such a procedure, I flipped the eggplant and zucchini over halfway through roasting. You want them tender, but not falling apart.

When the vegetables are done, remove from the oven and turn down the temperature to 350°F (175°C).

Beat the goat's cheese in a small bowl, with a drizzle of olive oil if needed, until creamy. With an offset spatula, spread the cheese over the parbaked pastry crust. Layer in the caramelized onions, then the eggplant, next the zucchini, and finally the tomatoes. Tear the fresh mozzarella into rough chunks over all. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few large, thin shards of Parmesan on top.

Bake in the preheated over for 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving, with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves to finish.

Makes 1 9-inch tart.

Notes:

• Yesterday I used an all-butter pâte brisée from Martha Stewart, making the full recipe and sending a second tart off to loved ones. I did make one change, using 1 tablespoon of vinegar (in this case white balsamic, usually apple cider vinegar) in place of an equal amount of ice water. I also make this crust with 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour instead of using all white.

• This was especially good the next day, gently warmed and served with a soft-yolked fried egg for brunch.

I know that I am more than late for our usual Thursday chat, but please forgive my tardiness. Due to an oversight on my part, our guest of honour was not ready for their debut. But finally, the wait is over.

The pickles have arrived. And what pickles they are. But before I tell you about their end, let me tell you of how they came to be.

At the market last weekend, I overheard a farmer describing the progress of his crop. Speaking in glowing tones that were more than tinged with pride, he detailed the specific traits of each of his vegetables; how they grew, their likes and dislikes, their particular qualities. He had a quiet intensity about the way he spoke, an enthusiasm that shone through his words. It was evident that the subject matter was of the utmost importance - more than a livelihood, but a passion as well.

There's just one of the many reasons why he's our Regular Vegetable Man.

On that same weekend his summer squash was especially fine, slender and small, with delicate, taut skin that was perfectly blemish-free. I do not know what it was that sparked my idea of pickling these little darlings, but a pickle was my particular plan. It was a surprising choice, as my usual tendency is to grill, griddle, or roast. But a pickle seemed the order of the day, the promise of crisp, cold slices of squash, puckery and astringent had me salivating. As a good pickle should.

Five days after salting, boiling and sealing the jars tight, I opened the fridge with fork in hand and anticipation in my heart.

That's the thing about pickles, they require faith. Commitment. They take their own sweet time. You do what you can to set things in motion, but that is where your influence ends.

What you put in the jar is as acrid and overblown, eye-twitchingly sour. But wait, just you wait, this is only the beginning. From there, the pickle really takes care of itself. The wait is transformative, and what happens inside that glass coccoon is entirely out of your hands. But your patience will be duly rewarded.

And rewarded I was. After those days, the vinegars had mellowed and muted, now balanced with a sweetness that is first to the tongue. The heat follows, with the indisputable zing of acid to finish.

I wonder if our Vegetable Man might like a jar.

BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLED SUMMER SQUASH

Inspired by a recipe from Simply Recipes. As these are meant as a refrigerator (chilled) pickle, they are not processed after being canned. Please see the link above for valuable tips on sterilizing and, if you so choose, how to process pickles so that they are shelf-stable.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds mixed summer squash, cut into 1/8-inch slices (I used yellow summer squash and zucchini)
  • 1 medium white onion (about 8 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 heaping tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon or a good pinch of ground cloves

METHOD

Toss squash and onion with salt in a large colander set over a bowl. Add ice, toss again. Refrigerate, tossing occasionally for 3 hours. This process will increase the crunch of the pickles by drawing out excess water. Once the 3 hours have passed, drain the squash, picking out any ice cubes that might remain. Rinse well and drain again.

Bring vinegars, sugar, mustard and celery seeds, peppercorns, turmeric, red pepper flakes and ground clove to a boil in a saucepan. Add the drained squash and onion. Ladle into 4 hot sterilized pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch below each jar's neck. Carefully wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth. Cover tightly with new, sterilized lids and screw tops. Cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge for 3-5 days before opening.

Makes 4 1-pint jars, to be eaten within weeks of making.