This thin, moist cake, filled with tender young zucchini and the unmistakable fragrance of basil, is a traditional cake from the coastal town of Viareggio in northern Tuscany. It was traditionally baked by old sailors with zucchini from their vegetable gardens. Now, come summertime, when zucchini flood market stalls and overtake backyard gardens, locals still turn to this beloved regional recipe.
Its name refers to its homely appearance: Scarpaccia means something like “large and ugly shoe,” as the cake is flat and about the thickness of an old shoe. It’s not too sweet, with an unusual green flavor, and stays pleasantly moist thanks to the thinly sliced zucchini added to a simple batter of flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and olive oil.
If you’re not feeling adventurous enough to make this sweet version, know that in Camaiore, a nearby town, locals make a savory version of zucchini scarpaccia. Naturally, the two towns have been fighting for centuries over which version is the best.
- 8 zucchini, with their flowers
- 2 to 3 tablespoons coarse salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A few fresh basil leaves
Wash the zucchini and slice into thin rounds. Remove the pistils and slice the flowers into thin strips. Place the zucchini and flowers in a colander. Cover with a few tablespoons of coarse salt and place a weight on top. Let the liquids release from the vegetables for about an hour. Rinse well and dry.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk and butter until the butter melts. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F and line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the milk and butter mixture. Add the flour and sugar and mix well, until you have a smooth and creamy batter with no lumps. Add a pinch of salt and the vanilla extract. Add the sliced zucchini and flowers. Finely chop the basil leaves and add.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and level with a spoon. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 300 degrees F and bake for another 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing.