Zucchine alla Scapece derives from one of the most ancient food preservation techniques: the Escabeche. This delicious side dish is a classic of the Neapolitan cuisine. The zucchini are previously fried, then marinated into a mixture of garlic, vinegar, and fresh mint. Here the recipe and the history!
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ORIGIN OF SCAPECE
The Italian Scapece derives from one of the oldest food preservation techniques known: the Escabeche. The origin of Escabeche is likely Arab, and comes from the Arabic word Sikbaj (Sik = vinegar, Ba = broth). In Europe, Escabeche has been spread particularly into the Southern Spaniard and Italian regions, the most influenced areas by the Ottoman invasions.
The first written recipe of Escabeche reaches our times’ thanks to the cookbook De Re Coquinaria (I century B.C.) by Marcus Gavius Apicius: a mixture of vegetables and bluefish previously fried, then marinated in vinegar. Some historian believes that the word Escabeche derives from the two Latin words Esca + Apicii ( Apicius’ dish). If the Apicius recipe is his creation or an idea imported from abroad, remains a mystery to this day
NEAPOLITAN ZUCCHINE ALLA SCAPECE
The Neapolitan Zucchine alla Scapece is probably the most famous Italian Escabeche. Called also Cocozzielli alla Scapece, this is a typical side dish, often also served as an appetizer, and paired with roasted fish or white meats. The ingredients are very simple and convenient: it is believed that it was an alternative of the classic Escabeche, destined to the poor people. Nowadays the Zucchine alla Scapece take its revenge on the richest Scapeces: it can’t miss in the menu of a traditional Neapolitan restaurant worthy of that name!
ZUCCHINE ALLA SCAPECE: TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
CHOOSING ZUCCHINI – To prepare a perfect Neapolitan Scapece, you want zucchini with pulp as firm as possible; otherwise, the vegetables result boiled and mushy, not browned. Here in the US I’ve got excellent results with baby zucchini.
CUTTING ZUCCHINI – You want to reduce the zucchini thick, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch.
DRYING ZUCCHINI – Another critical step to obtain a great Sacpece is salting and drying the zucchini rounds before frying. In origin, it was common to drain the zucchini under the sun.
OIL – The Neapolitan Scapece requires extra-virgin olive oil. Indeed, it is possible to use another vegetable oil, but the result will be very far from the original taste.
DOUBLE FRYING – The ideal frying temperature is between 338° F (170° C) and 356° F (180° C). It’s critical to fry the vegetables a few at a time without overlapping. To obtain zucchini fried to perfection, an excelled technique is the double-frying method. Let the oil reach the ideal temperature, then fry the zucchini 2 minutes, raise and place over paper towels. At this point, let the oil reach the ideal temperature again, then fry another time the zucchini until nicely golden.
MARINATING – the Zucchine alla Scapece marinade is composed of garlic, vinegar, and fresh mint. Traditionally, it’s common to add a few tbsp of frying oil to the marinade. I prefer adding new extra-virgin olive oil instead.
ZUCCHINE ALLA SCAPECE RECIPE
- 2 Lb (900 g) little zucchini squash (best if baby zucchini)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup fresh mint, coarsely minced
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2.25 cups (600 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 dash black pepper (optional)
- to taste table salt
- SCAPECE MARINADE
First, peel and mince the garlic. Then, rinse the mint leaves and mince them as well. At this point, combine the mint and the garlic with the vinegar and 3 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil, stirring with a spoon.
- CUTTING, SALTING, AND DRYING
Now, reduce the zucchini into rounds ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Then, pour the zucchini rounds into a bowl and salt to taste, stir and let rest 10 minutes. At this point, place the zucchini over a rack without overlapping them, and allow to clean out the vegetable water. If a rack is not available, use kitchen towels. After an hour, dry the vegetables as much as possible.
- ZUCCHINE ALLA SCAPECE
Now, Pour the olive oil into a saucepan and heat until the oil reaches a temperature between 338° F (170° C) and 356° F (180° C). Then, fry the zucchini a few at a time until golden. Place the vegetables over paper towels to drain the oil in excess. If you want to use the double-frying method, please read the paragraph above "Zucchine alla Scapece: tips and suggestions".
- STORING AND SERVING
Finally, toss the vegetables with the marinade, and optionally with black pepper, then store into a box. Place the box in the fridge at least 8 hours up to 2 days before serving.
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