I know it’s a little early to be posting a recipe using a summer ingredient, but I couldn’t help but get a head start on lighter recipes for the upcoming warmer weather (which will no doubt, be upon us very soon here in Texas). And, for as much as I try to keep my produce choices consistent with their growing season, after reading this article, I don’t feel so self-conscious about buying zucchini in February when I’m craving this dish.
Marinated zucchini, which is more of a technique than a strict recipe, came to Rome in the late 1400’s, when Jews living in Spanish-controlled southern Italy fled north. In Rome’s Jewish quarter, known as il ghetto, this dish is known as concia, but it is also known as zucchine alla scapece. The word scapece is said to have been derived from the Spanish escabeche. I grew up hearing this dish called zucchine marinate (marinated zucchini) and it was a frequent and popular contorno (side dish) at my maternal grandmother’s dinner table in Maryland and at my great-aunts’ dinner tables in Rome.
The zucchini used to make this recipe should be medium to small in size to take advantage of their tender texture, seedless interior, and mild flavor. In Italy, a smaller, pale-green variety known as zucchine romanesche are used. Their trademark ridges run the length of the exterior and when they are cut, the rounds resemble stars. If you’re lucky to find them, they are ideal for this recipe, but you’ll still have delicious results with standard zucchini.
Because zucchini have a high water content, drying out the rounds on clean dish towels helps the zucchini fry up faster. My frying vessel of choice is always a cast iron skillet for its efficient heat-retaining ability, but any heavy skillet or shallow pot will work well as long as it is not non-stick. Frying the zucchini rounds will take some time as you have to cook them in batches. The only hard part of this process is summoning all your willpower so you don’t eat the all the fried zucchini rounds before assembling the final dish. I should mention that the fried zucchini rounds, lightly salted and piled into a bowl, also make a wonderful snack on their own with an aperitivo.
Once all the zucchini rounds have been fried, they are layered into a shallow dish with slices of fresh garlic and herbs. Mint is the traditional herb used in marinated zucchini, but I’m not the biggest fan, so I substitute basil or parsley (and sometimes both), which, according to the classic Italian cookbook, Il Talismano della Felicità by Ada Boni,are both acceptable. Finally, red wine vinegar, which has been warmed slightly, is poured over the zucchini, and the dish is left to marinate in the refrigerator. You can marinate this dish for several hours, but the flavor is best if it’s left overnight, where the vinegar can penetrate the delicate fried zucchini disks and the flavors of the herbs and garlic can intensify in the best way possible. It holds for up to a week in the refrigerator, only getting bolder in flavor as the days go by.
Marinated fried zucchini makes a wonderful antipasto, served on top of grilled bread or crostini. As a side dish, it pairs perfectly with grilled or roasted meats, as well as beef, pork and poultry cutlets prepared alla milanese—breaded and shallow-fried. It’s also perfect alongside a slice of frittata.Print
Marinated Fried Zucchini is a typical Jewish-Roman side dish that is punchy with the bold flavors of vinegar, garlic, and fresh herbs.
- 3 medium zucchini, washed and dried
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 6 large basil leaves (or mint leaves), torn into small pieces
- 4–6 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
To prepare the zucchini
- Trim the ends off the zucchini and discard. Use the mandoline to slice the zucchini into thin rounds.
- Place the zucchini rounds on clean dish towels in one layer and leave them out to dry for 2-3 hours (or overnight)
- Once the zucchini rounds are finished drying, place them into a bowl or shallow dish and set aside.
- Line a baking sheet with 2-3 layers of paper towels.
- Heat a cast iron skillet or a medium heavy-bottomed pot (not non-stick) over medium heat and pour in the vegetable oil. Wait a few minutes for the oil to heat. Note: If you are using an oil + candy thermometer, the oil should reach 350ºF/180°C.
- Working in batches, fry the zucchine rounds, flipping them once, until they are deep golden. Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the fried rounds to the paper towel-lined baking sheet. Fry the remaining zucchini rounds in this same manner.
To assemble the marinated zucchini
- Into a shallow casserole dish, place one layer of zucchini, slightly overlapping. Add a few slices of garlic and some of the basil. Repeat this layering process until all the zucchini, garlic and basil are finished.
- Place the vinegar and salt into a small saucepan and heat it over medium-low heat until the vinegar just begins to simmer.
- Turn off the heat and pour the hot vinegar evenly over the zucchini. Use a fork to press the zucchini rounds down lightly.
- Cool the zucchini to room temperature and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the marinated zucchini from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before serving.
- Special Equipment: Mandoline, Oil + Candy Thermometer (optional)
- Storage: Keep tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.