Zucchini Bread with Walnuts

My mother makes amazing zucchini bread. Every year between August and October, she bakes at least a dozen loaves of it. To say zucchini is plentiful in the U.S. Northeast is like saying corn is plentiful in Iowa. Anyone who has a garden complains of being overrun with the plants in late summer. If you can manage to keep up with their production and pick the squashes while they're still young, they are usually very tender and have few seeds. But blink and the next thing you know, you're waist deep in these prehistoric looking vines and leaves, and you're giving away dark green zucchinis the size of a football player's thigh to every person on your block, and their grandmother.

I got a zucchini a few weeks ago from my sister's boyfriend's mother's garden. I held it up to my arm. From shoulder to elbow nook, it was the same length, but the zucchini had more girth than my arms (and I'm pretty buff).

I don't know why or how, but for some reason, until tonight, I hadn't baked a zucchini bread in maybe three or four years. Maybe it's because of all the places I've lived in the past few years, none of them have a squash harvest quite like the Northeast's, and with no one leaving baskets of them on my doorstep, I never got tired of them. Only buying a few in the grocery store at a time, I never tired of grilling them with just a brush of olive oil and salt and pepper, or chopping them up and adding them into tomato sauce, or slivering them with a sharp vegetable peeler and tossing them with warm linguine, creating a bowl of multi-colored ribbons, sprinkled with cheese.

When the urge to bake zucchini bread struck me today—or rather, when my vegetable drawer was overflowing—I emailed my sister and got the recipe from her. She says she adds coconut to the top. I've read online that a number of people like to stir in crushed pineapple. I just make it exactly as-is, being sure not to short-change the sugar, because even though it's extremely moist and cakey, it's not super sweet.

Zucchini Bread with Walnuts
Yields 2 loaves of 12 slices each.
3 large eggs
2 cups white sugar, plus 1 Tablespoon, divided
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon (I cut this down to about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (do not remove skins or seeds, unless the seeds are very tough and noticeable, like pumpkin seeds)
1 cup shelled walnuts halves, coarsely chopped or bashed a few times with a skillet (don't buy "walnut pieces" as they are too small)

Preheat oven to 350 F (note: I have to adjust my oven between about 350 and 365, and my oven runs pretty hot, so I recommend starting at 375, even though that's not what my mother does!) and set the oven rack in the middle. Grease with butter two loaf pans (8x3.75x2.5 or close to that) and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift together: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Working in three batches, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet, stirring smooth. Add the grated zucchini and stir to combine. Lastly, fold in the walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pan, and set in the middle of the oven on a baking sheet to catch any overflow. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is completely cooked and lightly browned. The top of the bread will probably expand, creating a rift; continue baking until the rift is slightly brown, too. If it looks raw or giggly, the bread is undercooked inside.

When cooked through, remove from oven. Cool. Slice into 12 pieces per loaf, or cover tightly in plastic wrap and freeze up to one month.