There seems to be three schools of thought when it comes to dealing with summer squash. The first, and most grown-up, approach is just to acknowledge that it is zucchini and use it like you would any other rather bland vegetable in salads, stir-frys, casseroles, kebabs and what have you. The second approach is to shred or puree it and hide it in things like zucchini bread, salad dressing, pesto, scrambled eggs and so forth; if you peel off the skin, it disappears even more convincingly but loses many of its nutritional benefits at the same time.

The third approach, more rarely attempted, entails transforming the squash so completely that it becomes unrecognizable, a la zucchini “apple” pie. Just for fun, this year I decided to try using some of our most enormous specimens to make candied zucchini. After simmering for half an hour in sweetened pineapple juice, these chunks resembled nothing so much as the pears and peaches in a can of fruit salad (not much of an improvement in my book).

The same chunks after about 18 hours in the dehydrator, looking more like little jewels of dried fruit than squash. (In this photo you can see through to the tray of dried cantaloupe underneath.)

After a dusting in powdered sugar and cornstarch, there is no longer any discernible resemblance in appearance or flavor to zucchini. The pineapple flavored batch in particular was a convincing imitation of dried fruit snacks, perfect for nibbling in trail mix or stirring into muffin batter.

Candied Zucchini

This recipe can be doubled or even quadrupled, depending on your zucchini bounty. The sources I found all used Kool-aid to flavor the zucchini, but I had great success with pineapple juice and cranberry spice tea. Other juices would doubtless work beautifully; apple cider is definitely on my list to try. The black tea I used gave one batch good flavor but a rather unappealing brownish color; fruit-based tisanes or flavored green teas might work better if appearance is a concern.

1 monster zucchini (2+ pounds)
3/4 C sugar
4 C water, juice or tea

3 T powdered sugar
1 T cornstarch or arrowroot

Peel and core the zucchini to remove any seeds, then cut it into 1/2-1″ chunks, keeping them relatively uniform in shape so they will dry evenly.

Dump water (or juice or tea) and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. (You can also flavor the liquid with half a packet of Kool-aid if you go for that sort of thing.) Add zucchini chunks and turn down to medium, stirring occasionally; cook until the pieces become translucent.

Drain the chunks well and spread them onto your food dehydrator’s racks; set the dehydrator to 130ºF. Dehydrate until the zucchini has shrunk significantly and feels squishy but firm, no longer sticky—18 hours or so, depending on your dehydrator and the size of the zucchini pieces. (I cooked mine in the afternoon, and they dried overnight.

When they are done, place the pieces in a bag or container with the powdered sugar and cornstarch, and toss to coat.

Source: Adapted from Collecting the Moments.

There was a community garden potluck this weekend, and for our food contributions, I knew I had to use as much zucchini from our plot there as possible. Since my mom has been clamoring for zucchini cake, I selected this zucchini bundt cake that originated with Babbo’s pastry chef. It turned out to use less than one zucchini (the extra shreds went promptly into a veggie lasagna for my parents’ 40th anniversary dinner later that day), so I felt compelled to up the zucchini ante with a crown of candied zucchini jewels.

I will admit to being skeptical about the combination of spicy, nutty zucchini cake with a lemon glaze, partly because lemon is not my favorite flavor. But I have to hand it to Gina DePalma, because this cake was not only incredibly moist but addictively flavorful, as evidenced by the fact that it didn’t outlast the weekend. And my candied zucchini fit right in! This will be my go-to zucchini cake from here on out, although I freely admit that I may experiment with coconut or chocolate glazes in addition to the lemon.

Babbo Zucchini Cake

1 C almonds, pecans, or walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 C sugar
1 C extra-virgin olive oil (I substituted half coconut oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 C (300g) finely grated zucchini

1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 C granulated sugar
1 C powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 10-cup bundt or tube cake pan (or 2 8″ round cake pans, or 2 loaf pans) with non-stick spray or butter, dust with flour, then tap out any excess. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, 1 3/4 C sugar, and olive oil for 3 minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixer, then add the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the mixer bowl to make sure everything is mixed in well, then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Stir in the chopped nuts and zucchini.

Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top, then bake the cake for 45-50 minutes, until the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. (If you are using something other than a bundt or tube pan, the baking time may vary.)

During the last few minutes of the cake baking, make the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice, 1/3 C granulated sugar, and powdered sugar.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a cooling rack. Brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush and let the cake cool completely. If you like, decorate the top of the cake before the glaze hardens with more toasted nuts, candied lemon slices, or candied zucchini!

The cake can be wrapped (or put under a cake dome) and will keep for a few days. You can freeze the unglazed cake; just defrost it before applying the glaze.

Source: David Lebovitz.

Update 8/31/11: I have made this zucchini cake 3 times this month, which qualifies it for a gold star if anything does! It works well either in a bundt or two loaf pans, with or without a glaze, with or without chocolate chips, and fresh or frozen and thawed. My only complaint is that it doesn’t use up enough zucchini!

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