I was a D student when it came to Biology, but I graduated magna cum laude of curly fries.
In my youth, I went to the same school for 14 years. No, I didn’t repeat 3rd grade twice. From Pre-K to senior year, I attended Ravenscroft School in North Carolina, and the massive campus at this college-prep institution housed a lower, middle, and high school.
Despite the grounds being remarkably large, each academic group shared one single dining hall. From a culinary standpoint, there was nothing exceptionally memorable about the cafeteria at Ravenscroft. But I will never forget this:
No matter the time of day—a warm, garlicky, lingering aroma of curly fries permeated the walls of that building.
Whether the cafeteria was featuring a hotel pan crammed with corndogs, serving an enormous, over-sauced lasagna, or flinging stacks of buttery grilled cheeses on white toast (now that was a good day)—the familiar smell of curly fries was constantly in the air.
Why is it that curly fries are so much more appealing than their first cousin: the standard, stick-shaped fry?
I don’t have the answer, but there’s definitely something superior about those garlic-heavy spirals. Is it a magical batter that gives them permission to reach that golden, deep-orange hue? Is it a generous amount of savory seasonings and spicy black pepper that provides each curly fry with its identical flavor?
For me, it’s just as much about the taste as it is about the twirls. And when I think about it—why do potatoes get to have all the fun?
In college, I had a friend whose southern mom had mastered fried squash. She would stand over a sweltering hot stove plunking yellow, flour-dusted rounds into a glistening pool of oil. The light, ever-so-thin exterior gave the traditionally tasteless veggie a whole new attitude.
I realized, if squash can get a makeover where the outcome is salty, crunchy, and somewhat suggestive of French fries—why can’t zucchini strut its stuff in the same way?
Let’s talk zoodles.
You’ve undoubtedly seen pre-made “zoodles” in the fresh section of your grocery store, so don’t fret about the fact that you probably don’t have a spiralizer on-hand. If you happen to have it as an attachment on your food processor, pat yourself on the back.
You had eighty dollars that I didn’t.
For those of us spiralizer-less, packaged zoodles work just fine. Baking vs. frying (particularly for something like homemade “fries”) is a common query among cooking enthusiasts. While there are certain ingredients I believe must be fried to achieve that meticulously crisp end-result, zucchini isn’t one of them.
Here’s my best guidance.
If you ever put on anything backwards, like your pants, don’t change or you’ll be surprised.
Okay, those words of wisdom are actually from my Great Grandma Fannie and they’re more for everyday life. Here’s my advice on baking something breaded.
If you’ve ever attempted a standard breading station (flour, eggs, coating), but done so in a careless way (not like drunk, but, like, in a hurry)—you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. By methodically keeping one hand for wet and one for dry, your pre-baked product will not look like a gloppy mess and you won’t end up with fingers that look more expertly breaded than your zucchini.
Also, parchment paper for president.
For years, I’ve been using tin foil to line my baking sheets simply because I didn’t know any better. Since recently adopting the habit of using parchment paper, I’ve noticed a major difference in the outcome of my food. Not only is there zero stick, but things seem to brown more evenly (especially if the paper is coated in oil before the ingredients go down).
For these zoodles, I wanted the curly fry “look” but with an Italian spin that would give the delicate zucchini a little flair without overdoing it. The sharp shards of grated parmesan cling to the spirals perfectly and the grassy herbs and lemon zest offer a necessary pop of freshness.
The airy panko creates a golden-brown coating that will make you do a curly fry double-take.
I opt for warm marinara as a sidecar—which makes this appetizer slightly reminiscent to whatever you get when you combine calamari and mozzarella sticks. I didn’t succeed in math class at Ravenscroft either, but that’s one equation I know equals yum.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese (plus 1 tablespoon for garnish)
- 1 ½ teaspoons of lemon zest, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (plus 1 teaspoon for garnish)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 12-ounces spiralized zucchini noodles
- ½ cup marinara, warmed, for dipping
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil (2 tablespoons total).
- Prepare three shallow dishes in an assembly line. In the first bowl, mix the flour with ½ teaspoon of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. In the middle bowl, add the eggs. In the last bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, ½ cup of the grated parmesan, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, the parsley, basil, the garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of pepper.
- If the zucchini noodles are particularly long, chop them into approximately 6-inch pieces to resemble curly fries.
- Working in batches, dredge the zoodles first in the flour, then the egg, and then the panko-parmesan mixture. Shake off any excess crumbs and without crowding them, arrange the breaded zoodles in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheets.
- Drizzle the zoodles with the remaining olive oil and then bake until golden-brown and crispy, about 12-15 minutes. While they’re still hot, sprinkle the fries with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon parmesan, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon parsley.
- Garnish with the lemon wedges and serve warm with the marinara.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 449Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 197mgSodium: 1441mgCarbohydrates: 42gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 17g
- If you’re using gluten-free panko breadcrumbs, you may need to crush them finer (depending on the brand) as larger crumbs don’t cling to the zoodles as well.
- Other dipping sauce suggestions include herby homemade ranch dressing or zesty Romesco made with almonds and roasted red peppers.
- To give these fries a smoky undertone, toss cumin and paprika in with the breadcrumbs.
Step by Step Instructions with Photos
Step 1 – Prepare the Breading Station
Preheat the oven to 425°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil (2 tablespoons total).
Zest the lemons and chop the parsley and basil.
Prepare three shallow dishes in an assembly line. In the first bowl, mix the flour with ½ teaspoon of the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. In the middle bowl, add the eggs. In the last bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, ½ cup of the grated parmesan,1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, the parsley, basil, the garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of pepper.
Step 2 – Bread the Zoodles
If the zucchini noodles are particularly long, chop them into approximately 6-inch pieces to resemble curly fries.
Working in batches (and keeping one hand wet and one hand dry), dredge the zoodles first in the flour.
Then the egg.
Then the panko-parmesan mixture.
Shake off any excess crumbs and without crowding them, arrange the breaded zoodles in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheets.
Step 3 – Drizzle with Oil and Bake
Drizzle the zoodles with the remaining olive oil (or mist them generously with an olive oil spray) and then bake until golden-brown and crispy, about 12-15 minutes.
Step 4 – Garnish and Serve
Chop the lemons into wedges.
While they’re still hot, sprinkle the fries with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon parmesan, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, and 1 teaspoon parsley.
Garnish with the lemon wedges and serve warm with the marinara.
A Creative Twist.
If you thought zucchini was meant to sit in your produce drawer and be forgotten about again this week, think again.
These zoodles are the kind of crazy easy, stupid delicious appetizer that give any meal an unforgettable lift off. Spike your batter with some fiery red pepper flakes to give your taste buds a wake-up call, and feel free to try this technique on yellow squash as well.
On the search for more ways to give zucchini a fun zip? Each of the following recipes elevates the green veggie from overlooked sidekick to coolest kid in school: