Zucchine alla scapece is a traditional Neapolitan recipe made with fried zucchini seasoned with an emulsion of vinegar, garlic and fresh mint.
Zucchini scapece is a very tasty, fresh and aromatic dish. Although you can make it all year round, it’s a typical summer dish that you should eat cold or at room temperature.
This side dish can be served with fish or meat main courses. If you serve zucchini alla scapece with cured meats and cheeses, they become an inviting antipasto (appetizer) to serve with croutons or slices of fresh bread.
This recipe, as we will see in the last paragraph, has its roots in very ancient times. Its name (scapece) probably dates back to the Spanish domination of Naples.
Zucchine alla scapece, or “cocozzielli sott’aceto” in the Neapolitan dialect, are so popular and rooted in tradition that in Naples we use the slang term “scapeciare”. This verb precisely describes the preparation of these delicious zucchini.
The preparation is simple and easy, but not quick. In fact, it’s necessary to leave the zucchini in the marinade for at least an hour, preferably longer, so that they can take on a good flavor.
However, there are some tricks to follow in order to ensure a successful result. Such as the choice of zucchini and EVO oil, the important drying step before frying and the resting time.
So find out how to make Zucchine alla Scapece, these terrific fried zucchini with mint and vinegar! Gather all the ingredients, grab your apron and follow our step-by-step recipe with all the tips and tricks!
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How to Make Zucchine alla Scapece
- Prep Time: 40 Min – (Preparation time includes the time needed to remove the water from the zucchini, about 30 minutes.)
- Cook Time: 10 Min
- Rest Time: 1-2 hours
- Servings: 4
- 500 g (1,1 pound) of zucchini
- 1 liter (4 cups) of extra virgin olive oil. About 70 ml (~1/3 cup) for the marinade and the rest for frying
- 50 ml (~4 tablespoons) of white wine vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of chopped mint
- fine salt to taste
Kitchen Tools and Equipment
To make the zucchini scapece recipe, you’ll definitely need a cutting board on which to slice the zucchini. The plastic cutting boards that are easy to wash even in the dishwasher are very handy and practical or the classic and beautiful wooden cutting boards.
Finally you’ll need a high-sided frying pan for frying and a skimmer spoon to remove the zucchini from the oil. You can also use a deep fryer with basket, if you prefer. As we will see below, you can also use an air fryer for a light version of zucchini alla scapece.
After removing the zucchini, we recommend draining them on kitchen paper towel to remove excess oil.
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First Prepare the Zucchini
Step 1) – To prepare the zucchini scapece, start by cleaning the zucchini. Wash them and cut off the ends.
Then, on a cutting board, cut the zucchini into rounds about 5 mm (1/5 inch) thick, they should not be very thin.
Step 2) – Now you need to dry and drain the zucchini so that they lose as much of their water as possible.
To do this, place the zucchini in a colander and sprinkle them with fine salt, which will help and speed up the release of their water.
Leave to drain for at least 30 minutes. The zucchini are ready to fry when they have a slightly “wrinkled” appearance.
PLEASE NOTE: Traditionally, especially in the summer, the zucchini are left to dry in the sun for about two hours. If you are not in a hurry and have the opportunity, we recommend that you follow this ancient Italian tradition. In this case, it’s not necessary to salt the zucchini.
After 30 minutes, rinse the zucchini under running water to remove some of the salt.
Step 3) – Now dry the zucchini with a kitchen towel. If you dried them in the sun, skip this step.
While the zucchini are drying, prepare the marinade dressing. Chop the mint leaves on a cutting board. It’s best to use a sickle or knife, not an electric chopper.
How to make the Marinade for Zucchine alla Scapece
Step 4) – Peel the garlic cloves, cut them in half and remove the middle core. Then slice them finely.
Step 5) – Place the chopped mint and garlic in a bowl, add the white wine vinegar and about 70 ml (about 5 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil. Stir and set aside.
How to Fry the Zucchini
Step 6) – In a fairly high-sided frying pan, heat the oil.
Heat until it reaches a temperature between 170°C (338°F) and 180°C (356°F) or until small bubbles begin to form.
Dip the zucchini a few at a time. Use a skimmer to move the zucchini during frying to ensure even cooking.
Step 7) – Remove the zucchini from the oil with a skimmer when they are well colored. This will take about 3-4 minutes.
Leave them on paper towels for a while to drain off any excess oil.
If you dried the zucchini naturally in the sun, do not adjust the salt.
PLEASE NOTE: The fine salt used to remove the water from the zucchini, even if you rinsed it off, will have definitely flavored them, so there is no need to add more salt.
Step 8) – In the bottom of a bowl, place some of the mint and vinegar marinade. Then add a layer of fried zucchini while still hot.
Continue in layers until you run out of ingredients. Leave to rest for at least an hour.
Zucchine alla Scapece are ready! Decorate with some fresh mint leaves and serve.
How to Store Zucchine alla Scapece
You can store zucchini scapece, in the refrigerator in an airtight container, for up to 1 week. We do not recommend freezing.
What are the Best Zucchini for the Italian Recipe of Zucchini alla Scapece?
The most ideal zucchini are those that are long and medium in diameter. They must not have many seeds and watery parts inside. They must be well firm zucchini suitable for frying.
The Neapolitan tradition uses the striated zucchini, called precisely “zucchina d’Italia” or “striata di Napoli.”
It is cylindrical and long in shape and has a light skin with darker streaks.
Can I Use Vegetable Oil for Scapece zucchini?
Tradition dictates that you use extra virgin olive oil (EVO oil). Not only for marinating but also for frying the zucchini.
Of course, vegetable oil is cheaper but the flavor is not comparable, especially if you want to be faithful to the authentic recipe.
However, if you like you may use EVO oil for marinating, but fry the zucchini in vegetable oil of your choice.
Why is it Necessary to Salt-dry the Zucchini Before Frying Them?
Another important step is drying the zucchini. These need a slow drying process before they are fried.
Our grandmothers used to leave them in the sun for a couple of hours on white linen tea towels.
Of course, as we have shown you, you can get around this method and shorten the time with a little salt. But it’s still a very important and necessary step for the recipe to be successful.
Why is it Important to Let the Zucchini Sit in the Marinade Before Serving?
Another important step is to let them rest after seasoning the zucchini with the marinade made of vinegar, oil, mint and garlic.
The authentic recipe for zucchini alla scapece calls for a minimum of four hours or even a full night’s marinating time.
This reposing allows the ingredients to blend and the zucchini to absorb all the flavors and aromas well.
One or two hours may well be enough, but no less if you want the scapece zucchini to acquire their characteristic flavor!
Zucchine alla Scapece: Some Variations
Zucchini alla scapece is a very simple recipe that leaves little room for variation without risking to alter the traditional recipe.
The only variations are in the spices and the cooking method.
Mint or Basil?
If you don’t like the taste of mint, you can substitute it with basil. Basil adds freshness and is great for summer dishes.
Garlic and Vinegar
Garlic is a key ingredient in this recipe, as is vinegar.
You can play with the amounts, adding or reducing them according to your taste.
If you want some acidity, we recommend using apple cider vinegar.
Spicy Scapece Zucchini
If you like a spicy taste, you can add freshly ground black pepper or hot red chili peppers to the marinade.
Frying Pan, Deep Fryer or Air Fryer?
As for the cooking method, the traditional recipe calls for frying. We used a frying pan. But of course, using a deep fryer will not change the success of the recipe.
For a lighter and more modern version of zucchine alla scapece, you can use an air fryer, which still guarantees the crunchiness of the zucchini.
However, the flavor will not be as intense and tasty as the traditional one.
Place the zucchini slices in the basket of the air fryer and drizzle with a tablespoon of oil (preferably from a sprayer), shaking just enough to coat all the slices.
Cook at 200°C (392°F) for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Halfway through cooking, shake the basket and turn the zucchini slightly.
When cooked, transfer the air-fried zucchini to a bowl and toss with the marinade according to the recipe.
Origins of Zucchine alla Scapece Recipe
Many trace the origins of the Zucchine alla Scapece recipe back to ancient Rome, where it was created by the same cook after whom it’s named: Marcus Gavio, nicknamed Apicio.
Apicio is also the author of “De Re Coquinaria” (“Of the Art of Cooking”), written in the first century A.D., the first gastronomic book in history.
According to this hypothesis, the term “Scapece” derives from the Latin expression “ex Apicio”, which means “according to Apicio” or “in the manner of Apicio”.
We know of the author that he was a lover of sumptuous banquets and culinary experimentation – which would later form the body of his work – and that he lived under the Emperor Tiberius.
Another hypothesis, probably the most credible, attributes the name “Scapece” to the period of Spanish rule in Naples in the 1500s.
Scapece (pronounced “ska-pe-chay”) would derive from the Spanish term “escabeche”.
This word is part of Spanish culinary terminology and refers to anything seasoned with vinegar or marinated in vinegar.