If you’ve seen Stanley Tucci’s ‘Searching for Italy’ series, you might’ve caught the man himself waxing lyrical about a seemingly humble dish of spaghetti with courgettes – or zucchini to the Italians. In a picture-postcard scene, Stanley samples the dish at a cliffside restaurant with views of the sea, before confidently claiming it’s “one of the best things he’s ever eaten”. The dish in question? That’d be spaghetti alla Nerano.
What is spaghetti alla nerano?
Spaghetti alla Nerano is a dish of pasta, fried courgettes and cheese that hails from the southern Italian region of Campania. More specifically, the dish’s origins can be traced back to one woman and one Campanian village. That woman is Maria Grazia, who created the dish at her namesake restaurant, Mariagrazia, in 1952. Hidden away in the picturesque fishing village of Nerano, on the sun-kissed Amalfi coast, the restaurant (and the recipe) have been passed down the generations – and both are still going strong today.
The dish itself is a lesson in how to make simple ingredients sing; the original recipe involves little more than pasta, courgettes, Provolone del Monaco cheese and basil. Provolone del Monaco is a buttery, somewhat spicy cow’s milk cheese that’s typical of the Sorrento region, but it’s much harder to find than regular Provolone in the UK. If you can’t find either, a mix of Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese works well.
Our spaghetti alla Nerano recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Calories per serving: 694 kcal
Chef’s tip: If you want to get ahead, you can fry your courgette rounds ahead of time and let them sit in the fridge for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.
- 400g spaghetti
- 6 medium courgettes (roughly 1kg), sliced into thin rounds
- Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
- 200g Provolone (or 100g each of Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano), grated.
- 500ml sunflower oil, for frying the courgettes
- 50g butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the sunflower oil in a large, high sided frying pan. You want the oil to be hot, so test it by dropping in a single disc of courgette and checking if it sizzles.
- Once the oil is suitably hot, add your sliced courgettes and deep-fry until golden (you might need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan).
- Remove your courgette rounds with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper, then put them in a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature.
- Next, bring a pan of well salted water to the boil and start cooking your pasta – aim for a couple of minutes less than the packet instructions.
- While the pasta is cooking, put a frying pan on medium and heat your cooled courgette, stirring occasionally and adding a couple of ladles of pasta water.
- Once the courgettes start to soften, add the butter and stir until it melts, breaking the courgettes up with the back of a wooden spoon as you go.
- Once your pasta is al dente, drain it (reserving some more pasta water) and add to your pan of courgettes, along with most of the cheese.
- Remove your pan from the heat and toss to combine, adding more pasta water if you need (you’re looking for a silky sauce that coats your pasta).
- Season to taste, then serve sprinkled with more cheese and some torn basil leaves.
Oh, and if you’ve not seen ‘Searching for Italy’, we’d urge you to search it out. We’re big fans of Italian escapism here at Pasta Evangelists – and the series delivers that in spades. You could even settle down to watch it with a bowl of spaghetti alla Nerano...