In the early eighties I worked as chef tournant at La Tulipe, a three-star temple of French gastronomy in New York’s Greenwich Village. One of our best-loved—and most unlikely—appetizers was fried zucchini. I know it sounds déclassé: fried zucchini at a three-star restaurant? But Chef Sally Darr took this typical Italian dish and transformed it according to her own refined and unerring taste. She started with a recipe that was simple and delicious, then had the finished product delivered to the table in a beautiful little woven basket. The key to the flavor was the batter: equal parts beer and flour, period. This batter has since become my all-time favorite. It creates the crispiest crust, which is, after all, the point of deep frying.
This is a great dish for entertaining because you can throw it together so quickly and/or prepare some of it ahead. The zucchini can be cut and the mayonnaise mixed the day before, and then all you have to do is prepare the batter and heat the oil. Don’t forget to season the fried zucchini the moment you pull it out of the oil. The salt will stick better when the zucchini is piping hot.
Yield: Makes 50 to 60 pieces with 1 1/4 cups dip
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup beer, plus more as needed for thinning
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 tablespoon fresh lemon Juice
2 medium zucchini
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk 1 cup of the flour with the beer in a large bowl until smooth. Pour through a strainer into another bowl and let stand for 1 hour. Thin with additional beer just before frying if thicker than pancake batter.
Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise with the olives and lemon juice in a small bowl. Thin with 1 to 2 tablespoons water, if you like. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve the zucchini.
Cut the zucchini into sticks that measure ¼ inch wide and 2 inches long. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large deep saucepan until a deep-fat frying thermometer reaches 375°F. Combine the remaining ½ cup flour with salt and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Add the zucchini and toss to cover in flour. Transfer to a strainer and shake to remove excess flour. Working in batches, dip in the batter, letting the excess drip off. Fry in batches until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Serve the olive mayonnaise on the side for dipping.