The first time I ever had zucchini bread as I child, it kind of blew my mind. "Wow, you mean you can turn a vegetable into dessert?!" I said. A few dozen years later, remixing notions of what ingredients go together is my favorite way to create new dishes
This week's clearance basket from my local produce market, held a pair of battered (though still salvageable) zucchinis. Having gotten a little zucchinied out this summer, I resolved to turn them into a loaf of chocolate zucchini bread. Still, after a few days of holiday baking I wasn't really in the mood for something sweet and I had a lump of cheddar in the fridge that needed to be used before I head to Saudi Arabia for a few weeks.
That's when I thought to myself "If you can surprise people by putting zucchini in a sweet bread, why not put it in a savory bread?", so that's exactly what I did. Vaguely reminiscent of a frittata, this bread uses a lot of eggs, giving it a moist crumb that's redolent of olive oil and thyme. Rather than mix in shredded cheese that would melt into oblivion, I wanted the cheese to have a big presence. That's why I cut the cheddar into big chunks, layering the blocks of cheese into the middle and on top of the bread.
When it comes out of the oven, the cheese on top forms a crispy golden crust of browned cheese, while the chunks in the center leave hollow pockets in the bread lined with savory melted cheese. Unlike many baked goods, this one is definitely better the second day, so it's a great make-ahead brunch dish. When I made this, I wanted something simple that I could snack on and take on the plane with me, but if you're making this for brunch, adding crumbled sausage or bacon is fair game. This would also work great in a muffin tin because the batter is pretty thick.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175C). Spread a thin layer of olive oil evenly onto every inner surface of a standard 9"x5" loaf pan. Dust with flour to coat evenly. This will keep your loaf from sticking to the pan once it's baked, so make sure you don't miss any spots. You can also line the inside of your pan with parchment paper.
- Remove the ends of the zucchini, then shred it into a colander using the large side of a box grater. Add the salt and toss to distribute evenly. Leave the colander in the sink or over a bowl and allow the excess water to drain from the zucchini for at least 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and paprika together.
- In another bowl, whisk the eggs, olive oil and water together until the mixture has emulsified (combined) and it's light and frothy. Add the drained zucchini and thyme in with the egg mixture and stir to combine.
- Dump the egg mixture into the flour mixture and use a spatula to fold everything together until the mixture is just combined. Be careful not to over-mix the batter or the bread will become tough.
- Spread half the batter into your prepared loaf pan then add half the cheese. Add the rest of the batter and smooth off the top. Stick the remaining cheese on top, and then place the pan in the oven. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean (about 45 minutes in a convection oven).
- When the zucchini bread is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool completely.