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Spaghetti alla nerano (also called pasta nerano or spaghetti with zucchini) is a simple yet flavorful Italian dish using minimal ingredients. This recipe is dairy-free, vegan, and can easily be made gluten-free.
By now, you’ve probably either seen an episode or at least heard of actor Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy show. Not only is it entertaining and inspiring, but it’ll make you ravenous.
In one episode, they make spaghetti alla nerano at a restaurant on the Amalfi coast, in which they explained the basics of the dish. So I immediately started taking mental notes on how I could recreate it.
The following day, I was grocery shopping for ingredients to make butternut squash risotto. Except, I couldn’t find any butternut squash, so I quickly pivoted and settled on lemon zucchini risotto instead. Until I remembered the zucchini pasta and knew it was time to pivot again.
- Spaghetti – the best pasta for this particular dish.
- Zucchini – because this recipe has such minimal ingredients, in season, smaller zucchini will give it the best flavor.
- Olive oil – for frying the zucchini. The zucchini-infused oil then is added to the sauce as well as drizzled on top of the final dish. So again, choose the best quality olive oil you can.
- Whole garlic cloves – these are added just to infuse flavor into the oil and then get discarded.
- Butter (dairy-free or regular) – the combination of butter mixed with olive oil gives it a more complex flavor than just using oil.
- Pasta water – helps thin the sauce while simultaneously making it creamier thanks to the starch from the pasta.
- Fresh basil leaves – for garnish and flavor.
- Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper – to taste.
Speaking of pivoting, I’ve made several variations of this dish, and this is by far the best version. The key to getting it as flavorful as possible without the addition of grated provolone cheese (like in traditional recipes), is to blend the caramelized zucchini into a sauce while still leaving some whole for added texture.
Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations
Please remember that recipes are just a starting point.
How can you make this spaghetti alla nerano using what you already have? Here are some ideas…
- Make it gluten-free – use your favorite gluten-free spaghetti.
- No garlic? – you can either use garlic-infused olive oil or leave it out completely.
- Variations – add in grated provolone cheese, use a mix of zucchini and summer squash, or add protein such as shrimp or fish to make it more filling.
For this recipe, you’ll need a chef’s knife or mandoline to cut the zucchini into thin rounds. For the most consistent slices, I recommend using a mandoline. Just be careful of your fingertips or use a protective glove. You’ll also need a cutting board.
To fry the zucchini, I recommend using a high-walled pot (such as a dutch oven). This helps minimize oil splatters. A pot to cook your pasta, as well as a slotted spoon to remove the zucchini to and from the pan.
Choose smaller-sized zucchini, preferably from a local farmer’s market or garden. The smaller ones have a sweeter flavor, fewer seeds, and contain less water. Large zucchini are very bland in flavor and will also take much longer to cook due to their large surface area.
More Zucchini Recipes
- Spanish Zucchini Omelet (Tortilla de Calabacin)
- Zucchini Corn Salad
- Breakfast Polenta
- Savory Zucchini Pancakes
Spaghetti Alla Nerano
- Heat the olive oil in a high-walled dutch oven pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly fragrant and golden, then remove it from the oil.
- Add the zucchini rounds to the oil and cook on each side for about 3-5 minutes or until starting to turn golden brown. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, shaking off any excess oil, and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Continue this process until you've cooked all the zucchini.
- Start cooking your pasta during your second to last batch of zucchini and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain your noodles.
- Pour the leftover zucchini-infused oil into a small bowl and set aside. Remove about 1 cup of the cooked zucchini (which will only be about a third of the total amount) to either a tall jar if using an immersion blender or the bowl of a food processor along with 1/4 cup of the pasta water and 1 tablespoon of the reserved oil. Blend until smooth, adding more pasta water as needed to thin the sauce.
- With the high-walled pot back over medium-low heat, add the spaghetti, butter, and zucchini sauce. Use tongs to stir everything together until the noodles are well-coated and the butter has melted. Add more salt and fresh black pepper, to taste.
- Serve with torn fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of the remaining zucchini-infused oil. Plus a sprinkle of Maldon salt (optional).