Zucchini Scapece Pasta with Peas and Minty Cream Sauce
Don’t make zoodles—treat yourself to this creamy, lemony fusilli instead.
Welcome to Benjamin Kemper’s weekly column, where you’ll find our freshest, boldest cooking ideas that require just one pot, skillet, or sheet pan. Busy week? Same here—we’ve got you covered with these low-effort, high-reward recipes from around the globe.
If you’re wondering how zucchini and bread could ever trump pasta tossed with Pecorino and guanciale, here’s your answer: scapece. Scapece shares a culinary (and etymological) lineage with escabeche and ceviche, and like Spain’s vinegar-soaked fish and game and Latin America’s citrus-marinated seafood, Neapolitan zucchine alla scapece employs acid as both flavor and preservative. It’s simple, if slightly messy, to prepare: Deep-fry zucchini in olive oil until blistered and soft, then soak it overnight in a garlic-vinegar marinade.
Right, back to the sandwich. At a cafe in Trastevere called Ercoli, I looked on as a cook halved a warm roll and scooped it with what I now know to be zucchine alla scapece, its vinegary juices seeping into the crackly bottom crust. Then she swooshed the top with sheep’s-milk ricotta, a salty, tangy counterpoint to the rich and mellow olive oil. Last came a flurry of torn mint leaves, the scent of summer suddenly filling my nostrils. I ate the sandwich so fast I blacked out. And then I devoured another. By the time I left Rome, the waiters knew my order.
Back home, I was Italy-sick. I’d grown fond of the barside espressos, the fruit market in the piazza, the aggressively al dente pastas—but most of all, I missed that damn zucchini sandwich. So I started scheming. What if I could knock out my cravings for pasta and zucchine alla scapece simultaneously? That’s when it dawned on me: Zucchini. Scapece. Pasta.
This recipe hits all the high notes of Ercoli’s sandwich—the vinegar, the garlic, the dairy, the mint—and layers on other Italian ingredients I adore such as anchovies, lemon, and crushed red pepper. Not only does the dish come together in a single pot in under an hour, it eliminates the deep-frying step of traditional scapece, so your kitchen stays splatter free.
Zucchini scapece pasta is both forgiving (no peas, no problem!) and adaptable. Fold in tuna, cubed prosciutto, or chopped roast chicken for extra protein, or make it vegan by nixing the anchovies and swapping the dairy for pounded pine nuts or walnuts. Served cold, drizzled with more oil and vinegar, it makes a refreshing pasta salad.
Until I get back to Rome, and back to that pitch-perfect sandwich, this will have to do.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 2¼ lb. small or medium zucchini (6–10), cut into ½-in.-thick rounds
- 2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½–1 tsp. tsp. crushed red chile flakes
- ¼ tsp. dried oregano
- 2 anchovies
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 lb. fusilli lunghi bucati pasta, or regular fusilli
- ⅔ cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
- ½ cup packed finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped parsley leaves
- 3 Tbsp. heavy cream or mascarpone cheese
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- To a large, wide pot set over medium-high heat, add the oil. When it’s shimmering and hot, add the zucchini and 1 teaspoon of the salt, then cover and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring every two minutes or so, until soft and browned in spots, about 12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Transfer about 16 zucchini slices to a small bowl and set aside.
- Turn the heat to medium-low. If the pot looks dry, add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic, chile flakes, oregano, and anchovies and cook, stirring continuously, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini on the plate, the vinegar, and the remaining salt, then turn the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until the vinegar has reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash the zucchini until you have a chunky sauce. Add the fusilli and 4¾ cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium, cover, and boil, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is almost al dente, 7–8 minutes. (If the pot looks dry, add water as needed.)
- Uncover and add the peas, Parmigiano, parsley, cream, lemon juice, butter, and lemon zest. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the fusilli is cooked and coated in sauce, 3–5 minutes more. Stir in the mint and salt and black pepper to taste.
- To serve, divide among four bowls and top evenly with the reserved zucchini slices, followed by additional Parmigiano and mint.