Spaghetti alla Nerano and its Derivatives

Got Zuccini? Make Stanley Tucci's Favorite Pasta

I had some really nice little zucchini to use up. I had some good spaghetti. I remembered Stanley Tucci and his yearning for spaghetti alla Nerano.

If you haven’t followed along, spaghetti alla Nerano is said to have originated in the little fishing village of Nerano along the Amalfi Coast in Campania, where the secret is the local provolone del monaco cheese, a semi-hard raw milk cheese from the province of Naples.

Nerano is famous for its small fish restaurants overlooking the sea, on the beach of Marina del Cantone. Choosing one of these typical restaurants you will hardly go wrong, especially if you go for the local dish par excellence, spaghetti alla Nerano (with zucchini and provolone del monaco cheese). All restaurants prepare them, but you can find the “doc recipe” at Mariagrazia’s, the restaurant to which we owe the invention of this dish beloved even by Totò and Eduardo.

So I headed to our beloved Internet and looked up recipes. Suddenly I was floating in a sea of tweaks. How many versions could be made of a pasta course with three main ingredients, pasta, zucchini coins, and cheese? Infinity came quickly to mind.

So I soon stopped looking and made my own version. It’s simple.

Frying the zucchini coins in olive oil until golden, with a bit of garlic to flavor the oil.

First, I fried the half of the zucchini “coins” (seasoned with salt) in olive oil with a smashed toe of garlic, turning them when they start turning golden. I placed those in my trusty mortar, removing the garlic which had flavored the oil.

I started the pasta water and put the second batch of zucchini in the pan with a little olive oil and cooked them until golden, then removed them from the pan and drained them.

When the pasta water came to a boil, I added the spaghetti and a handful of coarse salt. About 5 minutes later, I took a ladle-full of pasta water and added it to the mortar. I used the pestle to break it up for the sauce.

crushing zucchini
I used a mortar and pestle of local Cararra marble to crush half the zucchini with almost an equal amount of pasta water.

Then the pasta was almost done, I added it to the pan with a bit of pasta water and the batch of zucchini mixture I’d broken up in the mortar along with some pecorino cheese. While the pasta finished cooking in the pan, absorbing the remainder of the pasta water, I added the second batch of zucchini. I flipped the pan a couple of times to combine the mixture and plated it up, adding a little dusting of pecorino cheese. I used 5 very small zucchini for two servings.

spaghetti alla nerano
The finished dish of spaghetti alla Nerano or, more properly, spaghetti with Zucchini

It was good. Very good. But alas, also a bit of a failure. You see, the intent of the dish, as I’ve read it, is to make a cheese sauce with zucchini—a bit like pasta caccio e pepe with zucchini. The Romano I’d used was aged too much. But no matter, the food police (until now) have not arrived and evidence of the dish has completely disappeared. I’m happily in the clear.

But it’s not just me. Deviant versions of the dish exist in such vaunted palaces of high cuisine as L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Los Angeles, where Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano are creamed into a sauce.

If you want to go and get the real thing, head down south in Italy to Ristaurante Maria Grazia. They invented it, after all.

More on the cuisine of Italy

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Italian Garlic

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Spaghetti alla Nerano and its Derivatives originally appeared on , updated: Feb 01, 2023 © .

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