Spaghetti Alla Nerano: Stanley Tucci’s Searching For Italy
This is one of my favourite summer pasta dishes. Spaghetti alla Nerano was made famous by the restaurant Maria Grazia. The exact recipe is a heavily guarded family secret but this is my version of it. The creaminess comes from whizzing some of the fried courgette with some pasta water, a little cold butter into a silky creamy sauce. It’s so so good!
History of Spaghetti Alla Nerano
Spaghetti alla Nerano is a traditional Italian pasta dish that hails from the picturesque village of Nerano on the Amalfi Coast. Its history dates back to the mid-20th century when a small restaurant, Maria Grazia, was often visited by Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and actress Anna Magnani. The restaurant’s chef, Maria Grazia herself, created this dish by frying zucchini from her garden and then mixing them with pasta, creating a delightful combination of flavours and textures. Spaghetti alla Nerano soon became an Amalfi Coast speciality, celebrating delicious fresh produce and Mediterranean cuisine. Today, it is a real tourist attraction of the area and it is just so simple yet mouthwateringly good.
Searching For Italy
You might have also seen this pasta in Stanley Tucci’s famed series Searching For Italy, where he cooks this pasta at an authentic Italian restaurant named Lo Scoglio and falls in love with it. He since has cooked it for us all on his Instagram which looks delicious too. This is our version inspired by the TV show. The show takes viewers on a captivating journey through the wide-ranging and rich culinary regions of Italy. In the series, Tucci delves into the heart of Italian cuisine, uncovering the stories, traditions, and flavours that define each region and how they are specific to that area. He is so genuinely passionate about the food and the stories, that the show becomes an immersive experience for the viewer, connecting food with culture and history. It also has some gorgeous scenery of Italy throughout, making it perfect for both food and travel lovers alike.
Desert Island Dishes
We had Stanley Tucci on the podcast a few seasons back. In the episode, he divulges the last meal he would like to have and the seven other desert island dishes that have shaped his life and find out how he got to where he is today.
If you haven’t already listened to Stanley Tucci’s episode of Desert Island Dishes, you can listen to it here. You’ll love it.
When is the best time to eat courgettes?
Courgettes, like many other vegetables, have a prime season when they are at their freshest, most flavourful, and widely available. The best time to eat courgettes is during their peak season, which typically spans from late spring through summer.
In many regions, courgettes are most abundant and flavourful from May to September, with their peak usually around June and July. During this time, you’ll find a variety of courgettes in different shapes, sizes, and colours in farmers’ markets and the shops.
Choosing courgettes during their peak season ensures you get the freshest courgettes with the best taste and texture. They’re often more affordable and locally sourced, which can also mean less environmental impact since they don’t have to travel as far to reach your plate.
However, courgettes are available year-round in many places due to the nature of modern life and the ease at which products can be globally distributed. Outside their peak season, they might not be as abundant or as flavourful, but they’re still available.
So, while the peak season offers the best flavour and quality, you can enjoy courgettes in your meals throughout the year, but we would recommend spring and summer!
Let’s start with the key component
The courgette best used here are the petite, pale green variety, they are delicate and sweet. For the cheese, Parmesan lends a salty and funky flavour as well as helping the sauce emulsify with the pasta water. Basil, torn into a few fresh leaves, completes the essential ingredients. Some recipes incorporate egg yolks for a velvety sauce reminiscent of carbonara, substitute mozzarella for the cheese, or add a small portion of chilled butter. Locals from Nerano are not always keen on deviations from the authentic recipe, yet since Maria Grazia’s original remains a family secret, you never quite know what the “real” way to do it is. But at Desert Island Dishes, we’re all about using what you have and what you love and if it tastes delicious, we’re all for it.
The preparation transforms these ingredients into a dish, but it does require multitasking. As the pasta water heats, the courgette sizzles in the pan. Meanwhile, the spaghetti cooks separately. Blend together a portion of the courgette with pasta water, then toss all together. The outcome? A quick and hugely delicious pasta, where the sauce envelops each strand of spaghetti. Despite the frying or the addition of butter, the dish doesn’t become heavy; it is silky, summery and smooth.
How to thinly slice a courgette?
Wash the Courgette: Rinse the courgette under cold water to remove any dirt or residue. Pat it dry with a clean kitchen towel.
Trim the Ends: Cut off both ends of the courgette using a sharp knife.
Use a Mandoline: A mandoline is a useful tool for achieving consistently thin slices. Set the mandoline to your chosen thickness and pass the courgette along the blade to create thin, even slices. Remember to use the guard to protect your fingers or a metal glove as they can be lethal tools!
Sharp Knife and Steady Hand: If you don’t have a mandolin, you can use a sharp knife and a steady hand. Slice the courgette lengthwise into thin slices by holding it firmly and making steady, even cuts with the knife.
Vegetable Peeler: Another option is to use a vegetable peeler to create very thin strips of courgette. Run the peeler along the courgette to produce long, thin ribbons. This is less traditional and won’t look like the image above but it will still be delicious.
- Yield: Serves 2-3 1x
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 generous glug of olive oil
- 2 courgettes, sliced into very thin rounds
- Salt and pepper
- 250g spaghetti or bucatini
- 80g Parmesan, grated
- 1 knob of cold, unsalted butter
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.
In a pan over medium-high heat, add the garlic clove and olive oil so the mixture sizzles and the oil gets infused by the garlic. When just golden, remove the garlic and add the courgette rounds. Toss every now and then, letting them fry away until tender but not brown.
In the meantime, add salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.
Drain the courgette on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the courgette and about 60 ml of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. Set aside.
When the spaghetti is al dente (about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
Return the spaghetti to the pan and toss it with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried courgette, and the cold knob of butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want the spaghetti to be silky and just coated with the purée, not dry but not watery either. If it’s too dry, add cooking water a little at a time. Scoop into bowls and top with a little more parmesan and serve immediately.
If you want more Stanley Tucci pasta, might we recommend checking our Stanley Tucci Tomato & Bean Pasta, an Italian staple full of fibre and good veg, it’s an easy recipe for a weeknight.
If you love courgettes and want to make the most of them when they are at their peak, this creamy courgette pasta is simpler than Spaghetti alla Nerano and doesn’t require separate frying of the courgette. You’ll love it.