Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins

Living this suburban, just-outside-the-city-but-still-metro-accessible sort of life is pretty great but summer has a tendency to call me home. Home in the summer is a sigh of relief. It reminds me that there is a place in the world where I don’t have to put on appearances, where simple pleasures always exist. I can close my eyes and everything I hear, smell, and feel floods me with waves of nostalgia. A symphony of cicadas, a dozen or so mosquito bites on the ankles, the humid and hot air mingling with the smell of sunbaked grass and acrid tomato plants. If I could spend the rest of my life standing barefoot under the sun, a glass of iced tea in hand, watching that garden grow, it would certainly be a happy life.

But time is fleeting and just as I start to settle into the simpler ways of life at home, it’s time to head back to suburbia. But at least I’m usually laden with bags of fresh green beans, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini. Always so much zucchini.

And when there’s an excess of zucchini, quick breads are not far away.

I tried out a new recipe from Tara O’Brady’s book Seven Spoons. I haven’t yet had the chance to explore the book in too much depth but from the looks of it, the book is a treasure trove of delightful recipes that I can’t wait to try. But I can say that the chocolate olive oil zucchini muffin recipe is a definite win. These muffins have quite the flavor profile. The chocolate flavor is definitely there, but not in a way that makes you think you are simply eating a chocolate cupcake. It more so brings about this deep and earthy cocoa taste that pairs up nicely with the grassy component of the olive oil and the zucchini. Chocolate chunks and toasted walnuts bulk up the muffins providing a good crunch and chew to juxtapose the ultra moist aspect of the muffin itself.

I made 2-dozen muffins a few days in advance for an upcoming family reunion (they were a hit!) and I found that they froze really well too so you can stash several of them away for a day where a little taste of home is just what you need.

Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Muffins
Makes 24-28 small muffins
Recipe from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons

1½ lbs zucchini
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat four
½ cup cocoa powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. salt
1 cup toasted and chopped walnuts
8 oz. chocolate chunks
½ cup olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place muffin liners in two muffin tins. Using the large holes of a grater, grate the zucchini onto a clean kitchen towel. Once grated, place another towel overtop and press down to squeeze out some of the moisture. Let sit for 15 minutes and then transfer the zucchini to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, walnuts, and chocolate chunks together. In a different bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the buttermilk. Whisk in the eggs, sugars, and vanilla and finally stir in the zucchini. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the muffin tins. I filled each so there was about a half inch of space between the batter and the top of the tins. Place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the muffin. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Zucchini (and lots of other stuff) Muffins

This year is the first (in many) that my family put a garden in our yard. As a kid, I always remember having one. It was enormous and a mainstay for our summer table. For some reason many of my vivid memories of childhood stem from that garden; I feel like I was forced to pick green beans for hours every day though looking back that may be a bit of an exaggeration. But when we moved about ten years ago, the gardening stopped. Our house now is built on what used to be an old junkyard and we just happened to be a bit dubious about planting our vegetables in a sea of broken windshield glass and car battery acid. I guess we put caution to the wind this year when we planted a boatload in our little garden plot and watched as it very quickly became a miniature jungle out there.

Our garden, in only the past few weeks, has absolutely flourished. The size of the plants dwarfs those of the neighbors. We harvest about 10 zucchini a night only to find 5 more the next day that seem to have popped up in the matter of a few hours. It’s kind of ridiculous. I think the real reason for this is the fact that my mom sprayed the dirt with Miraclegrow. So…technically our garden is on steroids, the products of performance enhancing drugs. Now we couldn’t enter anything into the biggest vegetable contest at the county fair if we wanted to (actually I’m not sure if that sort of contest even exists) for fear of an embarrassing disqualification.

The only problem with an overwhelmingly flourishing garden is a sudden lack of refrigerator space and mouths in the household to eat everything. It has come to the point where only about a third of the produce stays in our home and the rest is placed into the hands of anyone who will take it. Strangely, it’s been hard to give away the Swiss chard. No one seems to know what to do with it, which is a shame. Obviously all they have to do is go on this blog and look here, or here. Problem solved. I’ve also been getting creative with the zucchini. The other day I made a Mexican vegetable and tortilla “lasagna”. My agenda today includes some pickle production. And Monday I whipped up a batch of these super-healthy zucchini muffins.

Despite their uber-grungy-hippie façade, these are not your classic crumbly and dry health muffins. They are also not cupcakes in disguise. Sweetened with only a little sugar, moistened with canola oil rather than butter, and absolutely chockfull of tasty mix-ins and, of course, zucchini, these are wonderfully filling and even delightful. They are heaven when eaten warm with a schmear of peanut butter and cream cheese. They are also perfect for adaptation. You really can adjust the nut and dried fruit types to your preferences. Want sunflower seeds, pepitas, millet? Go for it. Hate coconut (shame on you)? Leave it out. You could definitely also throw in a handful of grated carrot for good measure, if you’re so inclined. So if you find yourself the receiver of someone’s superfluous zucchini crop, make these.

Zucchini (and lots of other stuff) muffins
adapted very slightly from Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook
makes about 15 muffins

½ cup oats, ground into coarse powder with a food processor
½ cup hot water
1 medium zucchini
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup toasted chopped walnuts
¼ cup toasted chopped pecans
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
½ apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into ¼ into cubes
2/3 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole old-fashioned oats
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put muffin paper liners in about 15 slots in some muffin tins.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ground oats with the hot water until it forms a paste. Set aside. Grate the zucchini into a strainer or colander.  Press on the zucchini to release some of the excess liquid. Measure out 1½ cups of the grated zucchini. Add the zucchini, cranberries, raisins, walnuts, pecans, coconut, and apple pieces to the wet oat mixture and stir to coat. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with they whisk attachment, whip the three eggs and the brown sugar together on medium speed for 4 minutes until lighter in color and slightly frothy. Add the vanilla and then slowly pour in the canola oil in a steady drizzle. Remove the bowl from the mixer and set aside. Combine the flour, whole oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and stir to evenly combine. Pour the dry mixture into the mixing bowl with the egg and oil and quickly fold together until just mixed. Add in the zucchini mixture and gently fold into the rest of the batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins. They will not rise very much so you can fill each almost to the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minute until just lightly browned on the top. These are best eaten within the first 24 hours they are made. For any extra, they keep for about 3 days at room temperature. They also freeze well, wrapped tightly in plastic or foil. Let them defrost in the refrigerator, at room temperature, or reheat in a 300-degree oven. I’ll admit, I actually heated them for 20 seconds in the microwave…you won’t want to wait for the oven to warm up, trust me.