Summertime trips to farmers' markets, or your backyard garden, present the perfect opportunity to make sweet and sour zucchini, or zucchini agrodolce, an unexpectedly flavorful dish that combines fried zucchini, and red onion in a sweet vinegar sauce. Perfect to serve as a salad, side dish, or an addition to a charcuterie board, this is one of our summer go-tos.
It's almost summer and zucchini is popping up everywhere. Growing up in an Italian-American home, I learned that zucchini is a religion.
You either grew it yourself or had neighbors who grew it. Sometimes they'd grow so large and so quickly that you needed to get creative with all the ways to use it.
My grandma used it for everything - zucchini rollatini, broken spaghetti and zucchini soup, and a layered zucchini and tomato baked casserole that I can still smell in my mind today. And of course, sweet and sour zucchini.
It is the king of all Italian vegetables!
What is agrodolce?
Agrodolce literally translates to "sour sweet" in Italian. Agro means sour; dolce means sweet.
All over the world, different cultures have their own version of sweet and sour, but the Italian versions usually combine vinegar and sugar, and sometimes raisins.
The perfect example of a well-known Italian agrodolce dish is Sicilian caponata, which combines eggplant, raisins, pine nuts, celery, and olives in a tomato-vinegar sauce.
A family favorite agrodolce dish is chicken scarpariello which combines chicken, and sweet bell peppers in a vinegary sauce that must be mopped up with crusty Italian bread.
And then there's chicken agrodolce which is essentially chicken with eggplant and zucchini caponata.
Why you'll love sweet and sour zucchini
There are many more, but here are my top three reasons:
- You can, and should make this in advance. This is one of those dishes that tastes better the longer it hangs out. So make a day or two in advance of when you plan to serve. Zucchini agrodolce will hold up well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Sweet and sour zucchini travels well. If you're headed to a barbecue or other gatherings, this is the perfect dish to bring as it's easy on you and the host. It requires no extra prep other than to plate it, and is great served at room temperature, or cold.
- Use those zucchini! If you've been blessed with a plentiful zucchini harvest, this is one way to use it up so it doesn't go to waste. And you can do so much with it. Serve as a side, or even an accompaniment or condiment to sandwiches.
Ingredients and variations
Our recipe calls for zucchini, red onion, garlic, sugar, water, red wine vinegar, and parsley. Plus salt and pepper, and crushed red pepper.
You can certainly use white onion in place of the red.
Yellow squash, or summer squash, could be used in place, or in addition to the zucchini. Having both colors would make for an even prettier presentation!
In a pinch, you could use white vinegar instead of red wine vinegar with pretty much the same end result.
The sweet and sour flavor is what makes this dish what it is, so I would not recommend omitting the sugar as it will not have the same taste without it. We use three tablespoons of sugar for this recipe, but you could try reducing the amount if you'd like a low-sugar version.
How to make sweet and sour zucchini
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Slice the zucchini into ¼" discs.
- Slice a medium red onion into about ¼" wide pieces.
- Roughly chop 3 cloves of garlic.
- To a saucepan, add the water, red wine vinegar, sugar, red pepper, flakes, onions, and garlic. Bring the mixture to a low boil while continuing to stir and cook until the sauce reduces by about half, thickening and becoming a bit sticky. This can take anywhere from 7-10 minutes depending on your stove. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Heat a frying pan to medium-low heat. Note: a stainless steel pan will help achieve better color. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and add the zucchini. Do this in batches to not overcrowd the pan.
- Fry the zucchini until well browned on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Once browned, remove the zucchini from the pan and spread them out to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle them with kosher salt as soon as they come out of the pan. Continue to fry the remaining zucchini in batches, adding more olive oil as required.
- Layer the drained zucchini in a flat dish and pour the vinegar sauce on top. If the sauce doesn't touch all the zucchini, flip the top layer after 15 minutes or so. Allow the zucchini to sit for about 30 minutes to absorb the sauce, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill. The zucchini will taste much better in a couple of hours after they absorb the flavor of the sauce. Serve the zucchini with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and enjoy!
More zucchini recipes
Some of my favorites include sausage stuffed zucchini boats, fried zucchini fritters, ricotta stuffed zucchini, fried zucchini pasta (aka Pasta alla Nerano), and sauteed zucchini with mushrooms and burrata. And if you like a little spice, try roasted zucchini pasta with a spicy marinara and smoked mozzarella!
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe for sweet and sour zucchini, or any recipe on this site, we want to know so tell us in the comments below. We would love to hear how you did and it’s nice to show others as well. Thanks!
- 5 medium zucchini sliced into ¼" discs
- 1 medium red onion sliced
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ¼ cups water
- 1 ¼ cups red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup parsley minced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt plus more to taste
- ½ cup olive oil (for frying) divided
- In a saucepan, bring the water, red wine vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, onions, and garlic to a low boil. Stir and cook for 7-10 minutes or until the sauce reduces by about half, thickens, and becomes sticky. When finished set the sauce aside.
- In a large pan, fry the zucchini in a few tablespoons of olive oil (coat the pan) until well browned on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side). Spread the zucchini out to drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with kosher salt as they come out of the frying pan. Work in batches, using more olive oil as required until all the zucchini discs are fried.
- Layer the zucchini in a flat dish and pour the vinegar sauce on top. If the sauce doesn't touch all of the zucchini, flip the top layer after 15 minutes or so. Let the zucchini sit for about 30 minutes to absorb the sauce, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour to chill.
- The zucchini will taste much better in a couple of hours after they absorb the flavor of the sauce. Serve the zucchini with a sprinkle of fresh parsley. Enjoy!
- Frying the zucchini in a stainless steel pan will achieve a browner color than a nonstick pan.
- Make sure to salt the zucchini discs once removed from the oil, since when hot they will more readily absorb the salt.
- Refrigerating the zucchini for at least a couple of hours is recommended. They will taste way better!
- The zucchini agrodolce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.