A few weekends ago, we had our good friends Susie and David over for dinner. To accompany a few glasses of refreshing Aperol spritz’s, I made these frittelle di zucchine (zucchini fritters) for our appetizer. They are on heavy rotation in my kitchen for a variety of reasons: I can always find beautiful zucchine at the grocery store, and they are delicious left over and make a great snack or light lunch. The recipe for these frittelle comes from Lidia Bastianich’s newest cookbook, Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine. You can never go wrong with any of Lidia’s recipes.
Frittelle are part of Italy’s fritto misto (mixed fry) in which a wide variety of ingredients are either stirred or dipped into a pastella (batter), coated in egg and breadcrumbs, or simply floured and then deep fried. Different batters are used depending on the ingredient being fried. Some foods only need a thin, light batter that fries to a delicate crisp; others need a more dense and sturdy batter that cooks to a hearty crunch. Fritti (fried foods) appeared regularly at the dinner table both at my childhood home in Maryland and at my relative’s homes in Italy. My grandmothers and my great-aunts were masters at frittura, and I grew up happily eating fettine panate (breaded cutlets), crocchette di pollo (chicken croquettes), mozzarella in carozza (fried cheese sandwiches), supplì al telefono (fried rice croquettes), olive all’Ascolana (fried stuffed olives), and a variety of fried vegetables–my nonna Ada’s fried fiori di zucchine (zucchini flowers) being my favorite.
Fried foods are enjoyed throughout Italy and there are many regional variations of fritto misto. One of Italy’s most popular mixed fry is the fritto misto alla bolognese, a particularly varied and rich array of fried meats, sweetbreads, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. Bologna’s mixed fry is so popular that in 2004, the official recipe for fritto misto alla bolognese was registered at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. Another widely popular mixed fry is Rome’s fritto misto alla romana, which features artichokes, one of Rome’s staple vegetables that are the open markets’ harbingers of the spring season. Rome’s fritto misto also includes sweetbreads, fiori di zucchine, supplì al telefono, and potato crocchette. In coastal cities where seafood is abundant, there is the fritto misto di pesce which varies according to season and includes anchovies, squid, crustaceans, eel, sea bream, and seafood that is native to the area.
I tweaked Lidia’s recipe for her frittelle di zucchine slightly and made them using a gluten-free flour blend so Susie could enjoy the appetizer. Susie follows a strict gluten-free diet to keep her symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis under control, and eating gluten-free has made an incredible difference in her health. I never want any of my guests to feel left out from eating what I make for our dinner parties, so I am always happy to make modifications to recipes and plan a menu everyone can enjoy. Frying the frittelle di zucchine into a bite size rounds works well for appetizers, but they can also be made larger to serve as a side dish or vegetarian main. Lidia’s recipe calls for adding freshly grated lemon zest in the batter which gives the frittelle a bright flavor. I added fresh mint and basil for even more flavor and freshness. Since frying requires your full attention and can be slightly messy, the fritelle can be made ahead and held in a warm oven for about thirty minutes before you want to serve them. This way, you’ll be able to be a guest at your own dinner party from the minute cocktails are poured, and you won’t miss out on eating such a delightful spring appetizer.
Frittelle di Zucchine
Adapted from Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking by Lidia Bastianich
2 medium zucchine, washed and dried
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons finely chopped basil
Zest of 1 small lemon
100 grams (2/3 cup) gluten-free flour blend (such as Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Baking Flour)
or 90 grams (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
2 grams (½ teaspoon) baking powder
3 grams (½ teaspoon) Kosher salt
Vegetable oil for frying *The amount you use will vary depending on the size of the pan.
Lemon wedges for serving
Trim the ends off the zucchine and discard. Grate the zucchine on the large holes of a box grater placed on a clean dish towel. Gather the dishtowel together and twist it over the sink to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add in the grated zucchine, herbs, and lemon zest, and mix with a fork to incorporate the ingredients evenly.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add it to the zucchine-egg mixture and stir until all the flour is incorporated completely, making sure not to over-mix.
Heat a cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add in enough vegetable oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. The amount of vegetable oil you use will depend on the size of the pan. Once the oil is hot, use a spoon to drop in dollops of the batter, patting each frittella down gently with the back of the spoon to shape them and flatten them slightly. Fry the frittelle in batches, turning them only once until golden brown on both sides. The frittelle are cooked when a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. Drain the cooked frittelle on a baking sheet lined with 2-3 layers of paper towels before transferring them to a serving platter. Serve with fresh lemon wedges.
Make ahead tip: Fry the frittelle, drain them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and transfer them to a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Hold them in a 200°F (93°C) oven for up to 30 minutes before you want to serve them.