If it ever happens to you to be invited for a summer lunch or dinner by a Neapolitan family, you’ll probably eat zucchine alla scapece as a starter or side dish.
The stories about the origin of this dish are quite bizarre. I always felt very fascinated by the influences of Spanish, French, and Arabic cultures in Naples, so I did some researches.
The word scapece means marinated in vinegar and can be made with meat, fish, or vegetables. The origin seems to be Arabic: the al-sikbäj or sikbâg was a Persian stew made with vinegar. The word might have been distorted into iskebech and then escabeche (the Spanish version of the Italian scapece).
Another theory claims that the art of marinating in a vinegar sauce comes from the famous ancient Roman gourmet and cook Marco Gavio Apicio (I AD) who wanted to find an alternative to a very popular sauce at that time: the so-called Garum, a sour mixture of fermented fishes entrails (eek!), used to season various dishes. Well, apparently he created a vinegar-based marinade called in his honor esca (dish) Apicii (of Apicio), esca apicii, that later became scapece.
Anyhow, whichever the origin is, this dish is part of the Neapolitan culinary tradition and its truly delicious in its simplicity.
Every Neapolitan will tell you that the original Neapolitan scapece is made with fried zucchini.
However, as the scapece is simply a method to marinate whichever food you like, I would say that you have at least three alternatives to prepare your zucchini:
The original and the tastiest! Always fry in small batches, in hot oil for a short time, just until golden brown.
Simply shortly grill the zucchini with no oil on a hot grill or a grill pan or even better on a barbecue. They’ll be divine.
Cover with extra-virgin olive oil and bake shortly at a high temperature until golden brown.
Whichever method you choose, I recommend not to overcook the zucchini and to let them slightly crunchy. The key is to fry/grill/bake them on high heat for a short time until the outside is golden brown while the inside is still almost raw.
BAKED ZUCCHINI ALLA SCAPECE
- 4 zucchini
for the marinade:
- 8 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 clove of garlic, sliced
- 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (or more, as you like)
- a handful of fresh mint, torn
Cut the zucchini in slices of about 5 mm.
If you wish to bake your zucchini as I did, mix them with a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, line them up on a baking tray covered with parchment paper and bake them at 220°C (430°F) for about 5 minutes.
The zucchini has to be golden brown on the outside but still crunchy, so do not over bake them.
Let them cool down completely.
In a bowl mix together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the cooled zucchini, mix gently with a spoon and refrigerate for at least half day, much better overnight to allow the flavors to meld. You can conserve these marinated zucchini quite well in the fridge for up to 3 days and serve them as a starter or side dish.