Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A zingy way to use up summer's abundant zucchini, direct from Naples.
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The Venetians have saor, the Piedmontesi have carpione, the Spanish have escabeche and even the Japanese have nanbanzuke. All of these dishes call for marinating something -- usually something fried -- in vinegar.
This technique adds flavor, particularly when spices, herbs, or garlic are added, but its main purpose is to conserve the dish for longer. In fact, it's always best to eat this at least one day after you prepare it -- the flavors have had time to mingle, then settle and become tastier.
This zesty dish, zucchine alla scapece, is a summertime favorite in Naples. Served cold the day after it's made, it makes a wonderful side dish or antipasto. Atop some crostini or toasted bread, it can be a meal in itself. Don't be shy to make a big batch of it -- conserved in vinegar and kept in the fridge, it does well for about a week.
Traditionally, the zucchini are cut into rounds and dried out in the sun before frying, but patting them with paper towels and leaving them to air dry can do the trick. I also like sprinkling the slices with salt and letting them sit for two hours before rinsing, patting dry, and frying. This way, they absorb less oil during frying, which results in less-soggy zucchini that will better soak up the vinegary marinade.
This is less a strict recipe and more of a technique -- adjust it to your tastes, and keep in mind that it's also delicious with eggplant. Some people prefer to use a mixture of half vinegar, half water; you can even use white wine, boiled to remove the alcohol and then poured, still hot, over the vegetables.
For a mild, nutty garlic flavor, place the garlic cloves in the oil to infuse as it warms up, then remove it before you add the zucchini. Garlic lovers might enjoy simply slicing and placing the raw slices among the zucchini to be marinated. If you're not a fan of garlic, leave it out. The mint, however, is a must. It gives the whole dish, along with the vinegar, a wonderfully refreshing lift.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.