Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)

June 21, 2015
9 Ratings
Photo by Emiko
Author Notes

This pasta dish is an example of how little Italian towns and villages can have their own specialties, just like cities—where dishes speak not only to the traits of an area, but also to a very specific time and place. While the beaches are one thing that bring people to Nerano, a tiny fishing village built into the mountains on the Amalfi Coast, so does this pasta with fried zucchini.

All the locals know the story: The legendary dish was invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, who owned a restaurant in Nerano that bears her name (and where two of her grandchildren, Lello and Andrea, still work to this day). So many have tried to recreate this seemingly humble dish of pasta and local summer zucchini that it has become known as “Spaghetti alla Nerano” to distinguish it from any other spaghetti with zucchini.

Let's begin with the main ingredients: The zucchini are the Italian kind—very small, sweet, ribbed vegetables, pale green in color. The cheese should be Sorrento's own Provolone del Monaco, a large, semi-aged, five-pound melon-shaped cheese. It may be hard to find outside of the region, so Parmesan or caciocavallo (or even better, a mixture of the two cheeses, which is said to be close to Maria Grazia's original recipe) could stand in. And basil—a few, freshly torn leaves. Some use egg yolks to make a smooth, carbonara-esque sauce; some use mozzarella instead of provolone; and some add a small knob of cold butter. Nerano locals are quick to point out any unacceptable variations, but being that Maria Grazia's original is a secret recipe that no one but the family knows, you will find many slightly different preparations. Indeed, this recipe here is not the original one.

The simple ingredients become a dish very quickly—because you must multitask. While the pasta water is boiling, the zucchini are frying. Then the spaghetti is cooking. A quick purée is made out of some of the zucchini, and then it's all tossed together. The result is a fast, exceptionally tasty pasta dish, where the sauce clings to each strand of spaghetti. Don't think the frying or the touch of butter will make this dish heavy—it's not remotely, and the butter helps "mantecare"—that is, to create that clingy sauce that you need. —Emiko

Watch This Recipe
Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 4
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil
  • 5 small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 11 ounces (320 grams) spaghetti
  • 3 ounces (80 grams) grated Provolone del Monaco (or Parmesan)
  • 1 knob of cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 handful basil leaves
In This Recipe
  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.
  2. In a wide skillet 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 zucchini rounds. Toss every now and then, letting the zucchini fry away until tender but not brown.
  3. In the meantime, add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.
  4. Drain the zucchini on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the zucchini and about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. Pour this purée into a large serving bowl, where you will eventually add all the pasta.
  5. When the spaghetti is al dente (take out about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti into the serving bowl with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried zucchini, and the cold butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want 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. Top with the basil leaves and serve immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • kemturner
  • Moshe Kalaani
    Moshe Kalaani
  • inpatskitchen
  • Lilismom
  • sheila356

17 Reviews

Bakerdogs February 26, 2021
This was delicious—even with store-bought zucchini! Next time I may reduce the oil and caramelize the zuke slices a bit, but we loved it this way too!
AnnieB September 15, 2020
Made this with farro and it was amazing. Only thing I did differently was that I added the garlic that was used for the oil to fry the zucchini & put it in the blender with the zucchini to make the sauce. Superb. 🥰
AnnieB September 15, 2020
Made this with farro and it was amazing. Only thing I did differently was that I added the garlic that was used for the oil to fry the zucchini & put it in the blender with the zucchini to make the sauce. Superb.
[email protected] July 25, 2020
It was delicious! Added more pasta water and cheese but perfecto!!!
SteveD May 14, 2020
Makes me hungry just reading through the recipe. I just have to add that my Sicilian grandmother and my mother would fry the zucchini until it stared to brown. That bit of carmelization was the best part. I think we ate as much straight on of the frying pan as we did in the pasta. I still make it to this day. We all love it.
kemturner August 16, 2019
This is a very easy to follow recipe that appeals to my daughter (picky eater) and is super simple to make. This creamy zucchini sauce was a hit for lunch today!
Megan January 26, 2019
Super simple to make with excellent flavor. Will make again for sure.
Moshe K. August 22, 2018
Made this and it was absolutely amazing! All 5 friends loved the dish and went back for seconds!!! Thank you for sharing.
inpatskitchen July 31, 2016
Made this last night and we LOVED it! I, like another, added the cooked garlic to the puree...Thanks for a wonderful recipe!
Lilismom July 13, 2016
It sounds divine. Tomorrow is farmer's market day where I live and I can get those small, light colored zucchini. So it will be on the dinner menu for sure! Thanks you.
sheila356 July 17, 2015
My husband and I both loved this dish. It took us back to the Amalfi Coast! I used a good Parmesan, but I am now searching high and low for a provolone del Monaco!
Tina H. July 15, 2015
Sooooooo delicious!!!!! It was like a zucchini alfredo without all the cream! This will be a fast meal go-to for the remainder of the summer!
susan July 8, 2015
Made it and LOVED it. It's a keeper.......
Kristen L. July 6, 2015
Zucchini is one o my favorite vegetables and I thought this dish was extremely bland. What a disappointment and a waste of great zucchini!
Author Comment
Emiko July 7, 2015
Hi Kirsten, I'm sorry you thought so. This is absolutely one of the best-loved dishes in southern Italy because it is an incredibly delicious dish (and personally, after much research and recipe testing, this is the best zucchini and pasta recipe I have ever come across)! I suggest trying this with the small, sweet, young, ribbed and pale green Italian zucchini (as opposed to large, dark green zucchini) as they will be similar to the ones that are used traditionally for this dish -- it will make a world of difference! Also -- real Parmesan cheese if you can't get Provolone del Monaco. In such a simple dish those little things make a difference.
Gleaner July 3, 2015
Excellent dish even with yellow squash--salted drained 30 min and parted dry. Used the golden garlic in the purée as well. Can't wait until my heirloom zucchini start producing.
Author Comment
Emiko July 7, 2015
This would be wonderful with heirloom, garden grown zucchini!