Zucchine a fiammifero (Zucchini Matchsticks)

Frankantipasti, contorno40 Comments

As everyone knows, zucchini (aka courgettes) are a staple of modern Italian cookery. Italians have come up with a nearly endless variety of recipes for their beloved cucurbita pepo: They can be sautéed in garlic and olive oil, stewed in tomato sauce, stuffed, fried then marinated in vinegar, napped with egg and cheese, baked parmigiana style, a filling for frittata, made into fritters, a condiment for pasta… They even make their way into dessert! The list goes on and on.

Most of these recipes involve some sort of sauce or condiment to compliment or “elevate” the mild taste of vegetable. Today’s recipe for zucchine a fiammifero, or Zucchini Matchsticks, lets the vegetable shine on its own. The zucchini are cut into julienne strips, salted to remove excess liquid and pat dry, then light floured and deep fried. And that’s it.

With only four ingredients, this recipe is just about as simple as you can get, but for best results it does require due attention to technique. The zucchini needs proper prepping, and the frying needs special care, if you want your Zucchini Matchsticks to come nice and crispy. But no worries, it’s all well within the skills of even a beginner cook. And the results will repay you handsomely. Zucchini Matchsticks are as addictive as French fries, only lighter and even tastier.

Zucchine a fiammifero make a fine side dish to compliment just about any meat or fish dish you can think of. Or, especially when paired with other vegetables fried in the same way, they can serve as an antipasto. And they’re quite a home as part of a fritto misto.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

  • 4-6 medium sized zucchini
  • Flour
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt

Directions

Trim the ends off each zucchini, then cut them in half crosswise. If your zucchini are not too long, you can also leave them whole. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using the julienne blade of a mandoline slicer. Or if using a knife, cut them lengthwise into thin slices, then cut the slices lengthwise into thin strips.

Place the resulting zucchini “matchsticks” into a colander and toss with a good pinch of salt. Let the zucchini rest for an hour or so.

Just before you’re ready to cook, pat the matchsticks dry with a paper towel. Then toss them with flour to coat them lightly, shaking off any excess flour.

Proceeding handful by handful so as not to crowd the pan, deep fry the matchsticks in abundant oil until they turn golden brown. Transfer each batch to a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil.

Once you’ve fried all the zucchini matchsticks, toss them with a pinch of salt if they need it. Serve them right away, while they’re still hot.

Zucchine a fiammifero (Zucchini Matchsticks)

Notes

The initial salting and resting of the zucchini matchsticks is essential. You might be tempted to skip that step, but resist the temptation. Zucchini are a watery vegetable, which is why, as you probably have noticed, cooked zucchini tends to be very soft indeed. Salting leeches out their excess water, which should ensure they don’t turn to mush when you fry them but rather crisp up nicely. (The salt also “pre-seasons” the zucchini, so taste before salting after frying.) Recipes are all over the map on how long to let them sit, with some calling for as little as 15 minutes and others as long as two hours. I find an hour (as recommended by Ada Boni in her classic Talismano della Felicità) works quite well.

After they’ve been purged of their excess water, you’ll want to pat your matchsticks dry very gently with paper towels, so as not to bruise them. I actually like to lay them out on one layer of paper towels, then top with another, then roll them up and press them together very gently. You may need more than one go to get them perfectly dry.

Take care to fry your zucchini matchsticks right after you’ve floured them. If you wait, the flour may turn gummy, which will inhibit browning. If you’re making a large amount, you may want to flour in batches, then fry in batches, too. And here’s another case where Wondra flour does work wonders. It won’t cake on to the zucchini and stays dry, producing a light, crispy crust. I’ve seen Italian recipes call for rice flour for the same reasons, which makes the dish gluten-free as well.

All the usual tips about deep frying apply here. Use a lot of oil for a true deep fry. The zucchini strips should be able to float around freely in the oil. Also make sure the oil is nice and hot (but without actually smoking) before you begin to fry. If you toss in a test matchstick, the oil should immediately bubble up vigorously around it. And above all, don’t crowd the frying pan, so the zucchini matchsticks fry up quickly and brown nicely. Try frying too many at once and you may wind up with a greasy mess.

Variations

While most recipes will call for cutting the zucchini in half or thirds crosswise, your zucchini matchsticks can be cut at more or less any length that suits your fancy. For a striking visual presentation, you can cut them quite long. I find a length of about 12-13 cm (4-1/2 to 5 inches), as pictured, works well. Depending on the size of your zucchini, this can mean not cutting them crosswise at all or trimming off quite a bit at each end. (The trimmings can be used for other dishes.) Longer zucchini matchsticks will curl while frying into an eye-catching spaghetti-like shape.

You can also vary how long you fry the zucchini matchsticks. Since the zucchini are tender to begin with and the strips are quite thin, there’s no worrying about cooking them through. You can fry them until only lightly brown or biondo (blond) as they say in Italian or, if you prefer, until a deep golden brown known as bruno (brunette). Or somewhere in between, which is the way I like them.

You can prepare other veggies a fiammifero. Eggplant, for example, which you treat in just the same way as zucchini, except that it doesn’t take too well to cutting with a mandoline slicer, so you’ll need a knife. Carrots, which need no pre-salting but should be parboiled before frying. And of course, potatoes, which need neither pre-salting or flouring. As mentioned, a mix of two or more vegetables make a particularly attractive antipasto.

Making ahead

You can prep the zucchini, up to and including drying them out for frying, ahead of time. Keep them wrapped in paper towels until you’re ready to cook. The flouring and frying should be done at the last moment. And ideally you’ll serve up your Zucchini Matchsticks as soon as they emerge from the oil. As the Neapolitans like to say, frijenno magnanno: “fry and eat”. A bit like French fries, zucchini matchsticks lose their crisp after only a short while. But in extremis, you can fry them “blond” ahead of time and then finish them off in an air fryer for a few minutes, enough time to heat them through and revive their texture.

Zucchine a fiammifero

Zucchini Matchsticks
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Antipasto, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: fried, vegan, vegetable, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 4-6 medium sized zucchini (aka courgettes)
  • flour
  • oil for frying
  • salt

Instructions

  • Trim the ends off each zucchini, then cut them in half crosswise. If your zucchini are not too long, you can also leave them whole. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips using the julienne blade of a mandoline slicer. Or if using a knife, cut them lengthwise into thin slices, then cut the slices lengthwise into thin strips. 
  • Place the resulting "matchsticks" into a colander and toss with a good pinch of salt. Let the zucchini rest for an hour or so.
  • Just before you're ready to cook, pat the matchsticks dry with a paper towel. Then toss them with flour to coat them lightly, shaking off any excess flour. 
  • Proceeding handful by handful so as not to crowd the pan, deep fry the matchsticks in abundant oil until they turn golden brown. Transfer each batch to a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up excess oil. 
  • Once you've fried all the zucchini, toss them with a pinch of salt if they need it. Serve them right away, while they're still hot. 

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40 Comments on “Zucchine a fiammifero (Zucchini Matchsticks)”

  1. Frank, I think I could get addicted to these! Thanks for all the thorough tips. Zucchini have always been one of my favorite veg but I’ve never deep fried them.

  2. So good and yours look perfectly cooked. While most of my friends love fried calamari as an appetizer, this is one of my favorite appetizers when ordering out. I agree with you about Wondra, it is the perfect flour for this recipe.

  3. I made something similar before but does not look as perfect as your one. Lovie this dish specially when topped with grated Parmiggiano, yum!

  4. Frank, I think I would be like Mimi, none of these would make it to the table. I too would pop them in my mouth before they made it to a bowl.

  5. I have had fried vegetables as an antipasto at weddings, the waiters would carry around little paper cones filled with them 🙂 I think they also had bell pepper sometimes. They are such a delight when fresh and crispy, especially if you are already a little hungry 🙂 I think sweet potato and pumpkin would be a nice option in the autumn season.

  6. My mother made this all the time and sometimes in a thin long slice more than matchstick. She would season them well fry them as you say and whatever was left over she would refigerate and have them on sandwiches for lunch later in the week even when cold they were delicious. Alternatively sometimes she would mix it up and put in an egg wash then the flour. The secret is I think is they need to be seasoned well.I now have continued to make them as she did. Wonderful Italian simple food.

  7. I absolutely love zucchini and my crisper would complain if they were not there 🙂 ! Love the look of your offering . . . but never ever deep-fry these days ! Love zucchini stuffed and baked, steamed and stir-fried . . . so shall be checking each and every recipe you have suggested . . . thank you !!! . . . hope the sun sis shining over your way . . .

  8. This has always been a restaurant dish for me — I’ve never prepared zucchini this way (or eggplant, which I’ve had more often prepared like this). This really is simple to prepare, although of course you need some time. I was wondering if you’d recommend Wondra for the flour as I was reading this. 🙂 Really nice post — thanks.

  9. I love these – a local restaurant swerves them as an antipasto and they’re completely addictive. I ate so many last time I could barely manage the rest of the meal. 🙂

  10. What a great idea! I’ve never come across a recipe like this, but it sounds like an excellent way to use the excess zucchini that always seem to pop up around mid-summer. We often just slice and grill zukes, but frying makes everything better – totally going to make this one sometime this summer!!

  11. I love those! I used to frequent an Italian restaurant in Chelsea, called the Mona Lisa, which did them with their vegetables on the side.

      1. It’s a fantastic restaurant, where they do a 3 course menu (all day) for about £12. All the local London cabbies go there. On the a la carte menu, they do a fantastic fegato con la salvia at a very reasonable price.

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