Diminishing Zucchini Returns
The law of diminishing marginal returns reigns supreme every year around the time of zucchini season in my little nook of Italia. We all start out thrilled by the endless possibilities. We make zucchini and baby shrimp scialatielli pasta, parmigiana of eggplant, stuffed eggplant, marinated eggplant. Then around mid-July, we want nothing more to do with the offensive little squash.
The zucchini started arriving in my garden about a week ago, which means that the next few weeks will likely feature a rush to pickle, preserve and EAT as many zucchini as I can possibly stomach before they all start turning into massive gourds unfit to feed even the family pig. I usually start off the season with a rush of excitement, and this year is no different. The units of pleasure I derive from picking zucchini from my very own garden will continue to grow for approximately the next 17 days, and thusly I rather jauntily scurry from my garden to my kitchen to my table, a veritable if not slightly sanctimonious Alice Waters.
Since moving to the Amalfi Coast, my favorite preparation for zucchini has become Zucchine alle Scapeche, a simple preservation technique common in the Campania region of Italy but actually originating in Spain. Scapeche or in Spanish, Escabeche, is a vinegar based marinade often used to serve fish, but in my area we employ it almost exclusively to serve zucchini. Inevitably this is my first zucchini recipe of the season because it is as convenient as it is versatile.
Zucchine alle Scapeche is a simple recipe but its success depends on following several critical techniques. First, be sure to cut your zucchini to an even thickness of 1/8”. If they are paper-thin and transparent, they will become an unsightly mush. If they are too thick, they will not cook properly. Perhaps most importantly, they must sit in salt for at least two hours to remove any residual bitterness/ water and you must absolutely pat your zucchini dry before frying in oil. This will result in nice crispy zucchini as opposed to oil logged, sad gloopy zucchini.
I suggest you marinate zucchini over night before eating. They will have absorbed flavor from the vinegar marinade and are divine when served atop toasted rounds of bread as a bruschetta. For me, Zucchine alle Scapeche signals the beginning of summer and for the next few weeks I intend to enjoy. Check back with me about mid-July. In the meantime, delight in a little taste of Napoli this summer.
- 1 lb medium sized zucchini cut into rounds, 1/8” thick
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Frying Oil (Sunflower or Vegetable)
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
- Cracked pepper to taste
- Small bunch of mint leaves
- Place zucchini in colander and sprinkle with salt, resting for two hours
- Rinse zucchini and pat THOROUGHLY dry with paper towels
- Fill a wide brimmed skillet with oil to about 1/3” and heat oil to medium
- Fry zucchini in batches until they are golden brown (or as we say in Italy, Biondi—Blond!)
- Remove each batch of zucchini, placing on a paper towel lined platter to absorb excess oil
- While frying zucchini in batches, place vinegar and garlic in a saucepan an bring to a boil and reduce to gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
- Off heat and gently toss fried zucchini, vinegar, garlic and mint in a plastic container
- Tightly cover zucchini and marinate for at least two hours and preferably overnight
- Serve scapeche cold as an antipasto (such as a bruschetta) or as a vegetable side to accompany a poached filet of fish.
*Note: Keeps for roughly one week when stored in tightly sealed container.