If you’re a lover of food, specifically Italian food, you may have heard murmurs of this dish. If you have, it’s probably because of Stanley Tucci. In his book “Taste” (which is a great read or listen by the way. He narrates, which makes it even greater), he raves about the dish, “raves” may be an understatement, and even shares the recipe with his readers. When you think, vegetarian pasta….zucchini pasta, it honestly sounds kinda’ boring and I couldn’t imagine why or how it could be as good as he says. Then on one fateful evening in Miami, I had the pleasure of dining at the enchanting resturant Casa Tua, and on their menu was, low and behold, this famed dish. I took a chance and ordered it, because I just had to taste it for myself.
Well, he was right. I was blown away! Nobody really mentioned the velvety cheese sauce that coats every strand or the fresh basil that plays a very prominent role. Without it, it just wouldn’t be Spaghetti a la Nerano at all.
Zucchini prep begins 24hours ahead of serving day.
Stanley Tucci also featured the dish on his CNN show Searching for Italy which I actually haven’t seen yet but I heard that the chef making the dish, said the zucchini must be first fried and then allowed to sit in the fridge for minimum 24 hours . This is apparently essential for flavour development. So that’s what I call for in this recipe.
I know that setting up a frying station can seem annoying or can be intimidating for some but its quick and easy to do. I have a deep fryer but honestly you use less oil and it’s less of a hassle to use a dutch oven or similar high-sided pot.
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I hope you enjoy this as much as I and Stanley Tucci do…and my husband… and my parents and everyone who tasted it.
Lots of love! Enjoy xox
Spaghetti a la Nerano
- Dutch oven or deep fryer
- Mandolin optional
- Spider or slotted spoon
- Instant read thermometer optional
- 4 cups or so of sunflower oil see note
- 300 grams Spaghetti
- 8 small zucchini It’s about 2 small zucchini per person (See note)
- 1 Bunch fresh basil torn
- 1 Garlic clove
- 3-5 tbsp Pecorino Romano cheese and/or Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated
- 150 grams Provolone dolce cheese 5.3oz. 3/4 cup freshly grated
- Mild provolone such as Valpadana, found at Provigo. I love it!
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper coarsely ground
- 2 cups reserved pasta water approx. you probably won’t use it all
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed optional
- Place sunflower oil in a Dutch oven or deep fryer and heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). If using a dutch oven, it's preferable to use a thermometer (candy or instant-read)Slice zucchini into 1/8-inch rounds. I used a mandolin because it’s super-efficient, but you can cut them evenly by hand too.
- Add some zucchini slices to the hot oil and deep-fry until golden and brown in spots, about 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain and repeat to cook remaining zucchini. Season with salt as soon as their out of the oil and let cool.
- Transfer cooled zucchini to a bowl with pieces of torn basil so that it can impart it’s flavour as it sits. (Reserving the majority of your basil to add to the pasta later). Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate, for 24 hours and up to 4 days. (I learned through several sources that this fridge time is essential to the success of the dish 😉)
- On serving day, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, to al dente (Just don’t overcook because it’ll cook with the zucchini later as well)
- Meanwhile, in a high-sided skillet heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat and add garlic clove if using. Add zucchini and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and break down, 3 to 5 minutes. Add a couple splashes of pasta water. Break up zucchini into small pieces with the edge of a spoon or spatula. You can decide how small you want the pieces to be. Reduce heat to low and toss in basil and butter; stir until butter melts. Zucchini will be nice and glossy.
- Using tongs or a pasta ladle, transfer pasta straight from the pot directly into the zucchini. Stir to coat and add Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. Add a final splash of pasta water and toss.
- Remove pan from heat and immediately add your grated provolone cheese. Stir to combine and melt. You should have a glossy, velvety cheese sauce coating each noodle.
- When you move the pasta, there should be a little bit of liquid that pools at the bottom of the skillet. If it’s too dry (no pooling), add a bit more pasta water and stir to combine. The pasta will soak up liquid as it sits, and the cheese will thicken so you must serve it promptly. Like risotto, Spaghetti a la Nerano waits for no one.
- Serve with more grated cheese and a good amount of torn fresh basil and if desired, add coarsely ground black pepper & drizzle on some extra-virgin olive oil.
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