Squash is not one of the most popular vegetables but I love squash and I love cooking with it. It is nutritious, versatile, and delicious. Northern Italy consumes more zucca—winter squash—than Southern Italy, especially in the areas near Modena in Emiglia Romagna and Padova in the Veneto.
This is a great side dish or appetizer. Traditionally the zucca is fried before it is marinated, as I do here, but it is also delicious when made with grilled or boiled zucca.
I recommend butternut squash but acorn, hubbard, and other varieties will work as well.
Serves 6 or more as an appetizer or side dish
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt or more to taste
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- A butternut squash, about 2 pounds
- 1 cup vegetable oil or as needed
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves
- A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inches diameter or larger
- A 6-cup glass or ceramic casserole dish, preferably about 6-inches wide, to marinate the squash in several layers
- Mix the vinegar, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a small saucepan. Over high heat, reduce by half. Remove from the heat, drop in the garlic slices and let the marinade cool. Stir in the olive oil.
- Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out all the seeds. Peel the halves, place cut-side down and cut crosswise, into 1/3-inch thick half rounds.
- Pour vegetable oil into the skillet to the depth of 1/8-inch and set over medium-high heat. When the oil sizzles on contact with squash, fill the pan with a layer of slices, spaced slightly apart. Fry for about 3 minutes on the first side then flip the slices over. Fry on the second side another 2 or 3 minutes until the slices are cooked through (easy to pierce with the tines of a fork), crisped on the surface and caramelized on the edges.
- Lift out the slices with a slotted spoon, draining off oil, and lay them on paper towels. Sprinkle salt lightly on the hot slices. Fry up all the squash, in batches, the same way.
- Arrange a single layer of fried squash in the bottom of the marinating dish and scatter 4 or 5 basil leaves on top. Stir up the marinade and drizzle over a couple of spoonfuls. Scatter some of the garlic slices on the squash too. Layer all the squash in the dish this way, topping each layer of fried slices with basil leaves, garlic and marinade. All the seasonings should be used—drizzle any remaining marinade over the top layer of squash.
- Wrap the dish in plastic and marinate the squash for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight in the refrigerator. If chilled, let the squash return to room temperature before serving.