Scarpaccia viareggina (sweet and custardy courgette cake from Viareggio, in Tuscany)

Update May 2022: it is that time of the year again – courgette bonanza. Time to make scarpaccia, both as a dessert and as a savoury tart.

It took a leap of faith and my avid curiosity to try this cake: could a basic sweet batter and some grated courgettes make a good cake? No nuts, no sultanas, no spices…really? A resolute “yes!” is the answer.
This is a most unusual and excellent cake come dessert: delicate, plain and light, but not at all boring, with a delicious custardy quality. Burnished golden outside, yellow with specks of green inside, it is also pretty.
Scarpaccia  means “nasty/old shoe” and no one really knows why such an uninspiring name; it is possibly something to do with the appearance of this dessert: a genuine scarpaccia should be a fairly thin and crusty affair – like an old, over-worn shoe. It is the contrast between the sugary and crusty exterior (due to a good drizzle of olive oil) and the custardy, vanilla scented interior that make this unposessing looking dessert sing.

It is a Tuscan speciality and you will not find anywhere else in Italy –in fact there are not many mentions of it in cookery books either. It is always made only with courgettes but it can be both savoury and sweet: the former is the most ancient version, according to renowned Tuscan food expert Paolo Petroni,  and it is typical of the town of Camaiore; the latter is more recent and it is typical of the Viareggio. That two very close towns have contrasting versions of the same dish and this well exemplifies the incredibly diversity of our food culture.

The following version comes from Paolo Petroni’s book, with minor amendments. I have slightly altered the technique, added some lemon zest  and sprinkled the top with flaked almonds, which bakes to an irresistible sugary crunchiness. These changes  do not alter the spirit of this homely and yet sophisticated dessert, one that asks for so little and delivers so much.
Petroni calls for pale green courgettes and for some courgette flowers (cut into ribbons) to be used: should you be so lucky to find them, your scarpaccia will be even sweeter and more authentic.

La scarpaccia di Viareggio – sweet and custardy courgette cake from Viareggio, in Tuscany
6  to 8 portions

a 20 x 20 cm square tin, buttered and sprinkled with fine breadcrumbs: do not use a tin with a removable base as the batter will escape.

500 g courgettes: the traditional Italian way would be to slice them finely, I preferred to spiralize them and then to cut them into short ribbons.
a few courgette flowers, cut up into ribbons, if available
3 eggs
150 g sugar
50 g butter, just melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
grated zest of one lemon
60 ml milk
150 g 00 flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder
a small handful of flakes almonds
olive oil, to drizzle over the top of the cake

Sprinkle the courgettes (and flowers, if using) with some salt and leave them to sweat for one hour. Drain, rinse them, squeeze them dry with a  cloth.
Preheat the oven to 180.
Beat the eggs with the whole of the sugar minus a couple of tablespoons, that will be used for the topping,  a little salt, the vanilla and the lemon zest.
When the eggs are thick,  bulked up and considerably lighter in appearance,  slowly add the butter and the milk. Incorporate the flour and then the courgettes: do not overwork the batter, but make sure there is no speck of flour.
Pour the batter in the tin, dust the top with the flaked almonds, the remaining sugar and drizzle some olive oil all over it.
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until deep golden.
This cake is superb barely warm and at its best on the day it is baked.

14 thoughts on “Scarpaccia viareggina (sweet and custardy courgette cake from Viareggio, in Tuscany)

  1. This is so interesting! I never knew about scarpaccia until last week, when I attended a talk by Cristiano Tomei, the wonderful chef from Lucca. His own version was distilled into a nectar that he served pasta with. I thought it was brilliant. Thank you for your post!


    1. Hi there, It is a lovely cake and right now it is the best time to make it. Did Cristiano Tomei make a savoury courgette “sauce” for pasta?


  2. You always have such interesting recipes. I was in Camaiore last year and did not come across this, but then again I was there only for a single day. Think I’ll try the savory version.


    1. Ciao stefan and thanks…I have great pleasure digging into my old books and find things that sound interesting, weird ecc… I guess this is the advantage of using Italian sources.. (having said that I have learnt a lot about authentic Italian food by non Italian books, which are often excellent: Anna del Conte and Mary Tyler Simeti, just to name few greats..)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ciao Mimi
      this is a good dessert. David from Cocoa and Lavander mentioned u have something similar in the US called zucchini casket.. curious to see the differences/analogies… ciao, stef


    1. ciao Linda
      I have never tried the savoury version (but I want to make it soon). this is what Paolo Petroni (mentioned in the post says)
      scarpaccia (salata, savoury) di camaiore
      500 g courgette, thinly sliced, salted to degorge and rinsed
      2 white small onions (fresh ones would be better), thinly sliced
      4 basil leaves, optional
      150 g plain flour
      2 eggs
      50 g butter, just melted
      half a glass of milk
      oil and salt

      make a batter with the above ingredients. add the vegetables and the basil
      pour into a buttered tin: the mix should be on the thin side, 1 cm (says Petroni)
      drizzle with oil
      bake at 200 C for half and hour
      the scarpaccia must be thin and crusty

      if u play around with the recipe, let us know. thanks

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That sounds delicious, Stefano, thank you very much for taking the trouble to write it out. I’ll definitely try it when our courgettes are ready. Cheers, Lx


  3. I had no idea that “zucchini casket” (as it is called here in the states) had an ancestor in Italy! Fantastic. Look forward to trying this, Stefano!


    1. ciao davide
      one never stops learning: never heard of a casket …. just checked: u performed a miracle: google does not have “zucchini casket” :it is not mentioned either in Richard Sax’s Classic American Desserts/James Beard/Fannie Farmer ecc… do not have the Joy of Cooking… interesting …
      …. does it differ somewhere (I am expecting some spices and it to be sweeter, perhaps).. very interesting


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