Spaghetti alla Nerano
Many Italian pasta recipes are very simple and easy to make, especially those made with vegetables as a lot of them are. I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, pasta is traditionally, and often, served as a first course (Italians say primo) between the antipasti and the main course (secondo). Consequently, it needs to be kept light.
Secondly, Italy has a warm climate with long hot summers, throughout the peninsula but especially in the south. Heavy meals are difficult to digest in the heat, so Italian eat a lot of meatless pasta dishes. Of course there are also many pasta recipes which include meat but these are either eaten more in the winter or on special occasions or when preparing pasta as a main course.
Vegetable based pasta dishes may be simple to make and more easily digested but that doesn’t mean they aren’t flavourful. Italians have a talent for creating tasty food with only a few ingredients. The vegetables they use are almost always fresh, seasonal and locally grown. They make good use of herbs, garlic and on occasion pepperoncino, and cheese is nearly always present in vegetable based recipes. Italians only don’t use cheese with seafood pasta.
This recipe for spaghetti with fried zucchini (spaghetti alla Nerano) is an excellent example of a simple but exquisite vegetable pasta recipe. It comes from Campania and includes ingredients typical of Neapolitan cuisine.
A little Nerano history
Like many pasta recipes, there are various stories behind the origins of Spaghetti alla Nerano but the most widely believed is that this recipe was invented in the fifties by a woman called Maria Grazia in a restaurant bearing her name in Nerano a small town on the Sorrento peninsula. Apparently the restaurant still exists and is being run by her grandchildren!
The secret of the goodness of this dish lies in its amazing and appetizing creamy texture and the unique taste of the particular provolone cheese used. Provolone del Monaco is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from the Monti Lattari area which can be quite spicy depending on the maturation. Although provolone del Monaco isn’t available everywhere, there are other spicy provolone cheeses produced in Northern Italy and even in America which can be used instead.
The other secret to this dish is that the fried zucchini slices have to be dipped in boiling water before creaming them so that they reabsorb some of the liquid they have lost during the frying ( only 1/3 of the zucchini slices are creamed the rest are left whole)
As I said before this is a very simple but tasty vegetable pasta recipe. I’m sure that once you have tried it you will come back to it time and again.
- 400g Spaghetti
- 700g Zucchini
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 200g grated Provolone cheese (preferably Provolone del Monaco)
- Handful of fresh Basil leaves.
- Wash and cut the zucchini into thin slices, then fry them in extra virgin olive oil until browned.
- Once fried, put the slices on paper towels to remove the excess oil.
- Meanwhile boil the pasta in plenty of lightly salted water until al dente and drain, keeping aside a glass of the cooking water.
- Heat some more olive oil in a frying pan with the 2 garlic cloves and cook taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Dip the zucchini slices in boiling water for 4 or 5 seconds, then cream 1/3 of them either by mashing through a sieve or briefly liquidizing in a food blender.
- Remove the garlic and add the cream of zucchini and the zucchini slices to the pan and then stir in the cooked spaghetti. If the dish appears too dry add some of the saved pasta cooking water. Continue to stir over a low heat for a minute.
- Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the grated provolone and season with a sprinkling of pepper and salt, Serve decorated with the basil leaves cut into pieces and some extra grated provolone to taste.
- Spaghetti is the traditional pasta for this recipe but other long pasta such as linguine work well too.
- Although the original recipe calls for Provolone del Monaco, this cheese isn’t available everywhere, However there are other spicy provolone cheeses produced in Northern Italy and even in America which can be used instead.