Last summer it was these peppers; the summer before, rice-stuffed tomatoes. This year, I can already tell that the season’s MVP ~ the one dish I make more than any other ~ is going to be these zesty fried zucchini coins marinated in garlic- and herb-spiked vinegar.
In Italian it is known as zucchine alla scapece, borrowed from the Spanish term ‘escabeche,’ meaning food (usually fish, but not always) marinated in an acidic mixture. It’s one of those classic contorni (side dishes) you see on the display table in old trattorias in the south, along with marinated eggplant and roasted peppers. But the dish is also popular in Rome, especially in the Jewish quarter, where it is called concia. The word means “tanned” or “cured.” And it is, in fact, a “cured” dish, one that has to be made ahead of time and given a period of rest in order for the flavors to fully develop, for the oil from the fried zucchini to temper the tart vinegar, and for the herbs to release their bright essence.
It was the recipe for concia in the book “Tasting Rome,” by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, that reminded me how much I love this unfussy summer classic. I used to make it often years ago when my husband and I lived in Michigan. But like so many erstwhile favorites, it fell out of rotation.
Well, it’s back on and not likely to go anywhere soon. I can’t remember which recipe I used to use ~ or if I even used a recipe. So this one is adapted from the one in “Tasting Rome,” which, BTW, if you don’t already own you should buy. It’s a wonderful, evocative look at the Eternal City through its food. It makes me happy and homesick whenever I flip through it.
A couple of things to point out: Concia is best made with young, firm zucchini ~ the kind that are at the farmers’ market ~ or maybe in your garden ~ right now. If you make it later in the summer with large ones, you may need to salt them to release some of the bitter liquid. Use a good quality vegetable oil for frying the zucchini (I like sunflower oil). And be sure to let the marinated zucchini rest for at least a couple of hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
Do you have a favorite old recipe that you need to bring back into rotation? I’d love to know what it is…
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FOOD WRITING WORKSHOP IN FRANCE: There are still a few spots open for the food writing workshop I am co-hosting in December with Jamie Schler of Life’s a Feast, in Chinon, France. Sharpen your food writing skills and learn how to pitch and write freelance food stories. Details here.
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Give fried zucchini a bath in vinegar and you get this trattoria classic ~ zucchini alla scapece, known in Rome's Jewish quarter as 'concia.' Use young, firm zucchini and fresh-tasting sunflower to do this dish justice. By the way, you can use this same technique for eggplant. I sometimes mix the two together. This recipe is slightly adapted from Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, sliced paper-thin
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint (or a mix of mint and basil), plus more for garnish
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup white wine vinegar
- Sunflower oil for frying
- 1 1/2 pounds firm small-to-medium zucchini, about 6
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Combine the garlic, mint, and vinegar in a bowl (I use a glass measuring cup) and set aside.
Trim the ends off the zucchini and slice into rounds about 1/4 inch thick or slightly thicker.
Line a wire rack or baking sheet with paper towels. Pour 1 to 1 1/2 inches of oil into a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to 350F. Fry the zucchini in small batches until golden brown. I use a wire skimmer to turn them and move them around in the oil as they fry. When nicely browned, transfer them to the rack or baking sheet to drain. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Place the zucchini in a shallow bowl and pour the vinegar marinade over them. Toss gently with a spoon to coat well. Let the zucchini sit at room temperature for 2 hours; otherwise, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, scatter some mint or basil over the zucchini and drizzle with a little olive oil.
These zucchini make a great accompaniment to grilled chicken or sausages. The recipe in Tasting Rome suggests using leftovers as a sandwich filling on ciabatta rolls. I recommend also adding sliced mozzarella and prosciutto or mortadella.