Spaghetti alla Nerano is a classic Italian dish from Southern Italy. More specifically, the Sorrento Peninsula, which includes the famous Amalfi coast. Nerano is a town toward the western-most tip of the peninsula. A version of this dish was featured in the popular show Searching for Italy in which actor Stanley Tucci raves about it as one of the best things he's ever eaten! With the deliciously rich and cheesy provolone sauce combined with fried zucchini and fresh basil, it's hard not to absolutely love this simple classic Italian recipe!
What is Spaghetti alla Nerano?
Spaghetti alla Nerano is considered a classic dish, although by Italian standards it is not nearly as ancient as some other “classics.” It was most likely “invented” in the 1950’s in the Italian town of Nerano. Like most similar classic Italian pasta dishes, Spaghetti alla Nerano had probably been made in local households when zucchini was in season much earlier than this date.
Also like many Italian classic pasta recipes, it is a relatively easy meal that relies on just a few fresh and simple ingredients with tried and true cooking techniques. In this way, it is like its Roman cousins Cacio e Pepe, Fettuccine Alfredo, and others.
Spaghetti alla Nerano Recipe Ingredients and Common Substitutions
- Spaghetti: Either dried or fresh spaghetti will work here. If you are making fresh homemade pasta, the pasta cooking time will be much shorter (1-2 minutes) than store-bought dried pasta. See our homemade pasta post for more info.
- Fresh zucchini: We recommend using smaller, thinner zucchini in this recipe because they are the sweetest and have fewer and more tender seeds.
- Olive oil: The olive oil is used to fry the zucchini. It does not have to be extra virgin olive oil. Any olive oil will work here, or substitute with a neutral oil like grapeseed oil or sunflower oil.
- Provolone cheese: Provolone del Monaco cheese is traditionally used but if it is not available, a provolone “picante” is the best substitute. The provolone cheese gives this dish its creamy texture and remarkable flavor.
- Garlic: Always use fresh garlic cloves for this recipe for best results. Each garlic clove is halved, cooked to infuse the oil, then discarded in this recipe. The pre-minced, jarred garlic won't work well for this recipe.
- Butter: Unsalted butter is best for this recipe so that you can control the amount of salt to taste as needed at the end.
- Pecorino Romano cheese: We chose to use pecorino cheese (hard Italian sheep's milk cheese) in this recipe for its depth of flavor and salt content. Parmigiano reggiano (real parmesan cheese) is a good substitute if you can't find pecorino.
- Fresh basil leaves: Fresh is best in this recipe. We do not recommend replacing fresh basil with dried.
- Lemon juice: We added a touch of freshly squeezed lemon juice at the end to brighten the whole dish up and we love the way it turned out! This is also a nod to the Amalfi coast.
Do I need special equipment to make this recipe?
No special equipment is needed for this recipe.
However, if you have a mandolin to slice the zucchini it is highly recommended to use this versatile kitchen tool. This will give you nice, even, thin rounds and you’ll be done slicing in no time!
Level up this recipe with Homemade Pasta
Homemade pasta is just better than anything you can buy and that’s just the way it is! A little extra effort needed? Sure. But we think it’s well worth the effort and so satisfying. Try our multipurpose pasta dough recipe cut thin like spaghetti and you’ll love the silky texture that homemade pasta provides!
Other ways to enhance this recipe:
- Toasted Bread Crumbs added to the top will give some spectacular flavor and texture to the dish if you wish. If you pan-fry Panko breadcrumbs in a little butter until golden brown then it’s even better!
- We’ve added some lightly fried artichoke hearts to the dish as an experiment and love the additional flavor they bring.
- You certainly can add some red bell pepper slivers to the pan when you cook the zucchini, which will add some color and flavor to the dish
- Red pepper flakes make the world go round, so if you want to sprinkle a bit when plating to up the heat a bit, you’re doing a good thing!
What to do with leftover Spaghetti alla Nerano?
This dish is so quick and simple to make, that we recommend always making a fresh batch when you want to eat it. Reheating dishes like this with a creamy cheese-based sauce have a tendency to break and become a bit oily during the reheating process.
It is also NOT RECOMMENDED to freeze leftover Spaghetti alla Nerano. The texture will not be the same once reheated and the spaghetti will likely overcook and become mushy. Again, this recipe is easy to make, so make it fresh for best results!
How to Reheat Spaghetti alla Nerano?
Although the texture of Spaghetti alla Nerano may not be the same leftover and reheated, the flavors don’t fade and it will still be delicious!
So, if you do happen to have leftovers, simply store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 5 days and reheat on low in a covered pan with a drizzle of olive oil. It’s important to remember that you’re just heating it up and not cooking it more so be careful to keep the heat low and enjoy once it is warmed through.
Top Tips for Making Spaghetti alla Nerano
- Buy smaller and thinner zucchini - as noted earlier, the younger vegetables that are smaller will be sweeter. They also don’t have as many of the inner seeds and the ones that are in there are smaller and sweeter as well.
- Use a mandolin for thin even slices of zucchini - uneven slices will not cook evenly.
- Use aged provolone or provolone picante. There is more flavor in these and it’s one of the stars of the dish!
- Never use dried basil in place of fresh basil.
- Use fresh garlic instead of jarred garlic - for sure.
Is Spaghetti alla Nerano Vegetarian?
Short answer is yes. The cheese and pasta remove the vegan and gluten free tags, but if you are looking for a vegetarian option this will make you a happy person!
What to serve with Spaghetti alla Nerano?
This dish is wonderful as a standalone recipe, and this is typically how we like to enjoy it. If you need a bit more substance, serve Spaghetti alla Nerano with some crusty bread to mop up extra cheesy sauce.
Additionally, you can serve this as a first course or side dish of smaller portions with a variety of meat of seafood main courses. Try our Chicken Piccata or Saltimboca alla Romana, or serve it with some Perfectly Seared Scallops!
We hope that you enjoy this recipe for Spaghetti alla Nerano! If you give this recipe a try, let us know how it turned out in the comments below. If you loved this recipe, please give it a 5 star rating and share your final dish on Instagram @cooking_with_wine!
Looking for more recipes like this? Check these out:
- Roasted Zucchini and Tomato Pasta
- Vegetable Lasagna with White Sauce
- Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops
- Summer Pasta (Pasta D'Estate)
Spaghetti alla Nerano (Cheesy Fried Zucchini Pasta)
- 1 Large pot
- 1 Large frying pan
- 3 tablespoon (45 ml) olive oil, divided
- 5 cloves garlic halved
- 4 zucchini small and thin, sliced to about ⅛” (3mm)
- 8 ounces spaghetti or 1 recipe Homemade Pasta cut into spaghetti
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 7 ounces (200g) Provolone del Monaco (or provolone picante), grated
- 1.5 ounces (43g) Pecorino cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 25 medium basil leaves
- Kosher or sea salt to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (2 tablespoon per 6-8 quarts of water).
- While you wait, in a large frying pan add 2 tablespoon of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the sliced zucchini in batches and fry until golden grown, then remove promptly to a paper towel-lined plate. Do not blacken the zucchini or it will become bitter. Set aside to dry and drain any excess oil.
- In the same pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and halved garlic cloves to the pan and turn the heat to low. Cook the garlic gently until it starts to brown. Once browned, remove the garlic and discard.
- When the pot of water is ready and boiling, add the spaghetti and cook to al dente (see note for al dente cooking times). When pasta is al dente, transfer the spaghetti to the large pan with the garlic infused oil over low heat and stir (reserve some pasta cooking water - about 1 cup).
- Next, add the fried zucchini slices and the butter and stir. Add both types of grated cheese and stir to combine and melt thoroughly. If the sauce is too thick add a little of the reserved pasta water to create a creamy but thick sauce.
- Finally, add the lemon juice, black pepper, and basil leaves, stir to incorporate and taste for salt. You probably won’t need any salt, but if so, season to taste. Serve and enjoy! Buon appetito!
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