Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)

This Spaghetti alla Nerano recipe is a rich and creamy pasta made with fried zucchini and parmesan cheese. It’s a restaurant-worthy dish with gourmet flavors, but comes together in minutes!

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Looking for more close-to-authentic Italian pasta recipes? Then don’t miss my Spicy Diavolo Sauce, Bolognese Sauce, and Italian Sunday Sauce

If spaghetti served with cheese and zucchini sounds great to you, then you’ll love Spaghetti alla Nerano. This “life-changing” and “unbelievable” pasta dish was made famous during a segment on Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. He claimed it as one of the best things he’s ever eaten, and I couldn’t agree more!

Close up of fried zucchini slices.

ℹ️ What is spaghetti alla Nerano?

Spaghetti alla Nerano is a simple pasta dish with minimal ingredients and gourmet flavors. Preparation differs from one Italian kitchen to the next, but at the heart of this humble dish is fried zucchini and al dente spaghetti. The results are light and fresh, yet creamy and oh-so-satisfying!

The first spaghetti alla Nerano was made in Nerano in 1952 by restaurant owner Maria Grazia. Seventy years later, the specifics of that recipe remain a secret. However, there have been many attempts to recreate the discernable difference between spaghetti made the Nerano way and any other pasta zucchini dish.

To mimic the original recipe, the zucchini must be deep-fried. Frying zucchini squash enhances the natural sweetness while adding a toasted, nutty element. 

Zucchini tossed with basil in bowl.

🛒 Ingredients needed

  • Sunflower oil – I suggest using sunflower oil to fry the zucchini as it’s relatively healthy and inexpensive compared to other cooking oils with a high smoke point. You can also use vegetable oil as a substitute if you want. 
  • Zucchini – When shopping, look for zucchini that’s small in size, deep green in color, and firm to the touch. These are all tell-tale signs that the vegetable was picked before maturity, meaning it will taste sweeter and contain less water and seeds. 
  • Basil – Fresh basil is non-negotiable.
  • Kosher salt 
  • Olive oil – Quality matters here, so try to use a rich olive oil or EVOO.
  • Spaghetti – Or use any long, thin pasta noodle, like angel hair, bucatini, fettuccine, or linguine.
  • Parmesan – For authenticity’s sake, the best cheese is semi-aged provolone del Monaco. Since it’s a hyper-regional cheese, it can be hard to find. Parmesan, caciocavallo, or other types of provolone (or a mixture!) grated directly from the block are suitable substitutions. 

📋 How to make spaghetti alla Nerano 

Pour the sunflower oil into a large pot and bring it up to a gentle boil. Add the zucchini and let the slices sizzle until golden brown. 

Transfer the fried zucchini slices to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Next, toss them with basil, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water before draining. 

Next, toss the cooked pasta with the fried zucchini in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the reserved pasta water until the sauce is creamy. 

Spaghetti tossed with zucchini in skillet.

Add the parmesan and continue tossing until the pasta is coated, the zucchini is incorporated, and the sauce is thick and silky. 

Season with a little salt, olive oil, and grated parmesan, then enjoy!

🌟 Tips and tricks

  • Be prepared to multitask! This recipe moves very quickly. While the zucchini fries, you can bring a pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti. The pasta will be finished cooking at the same time as the zucchini, so all that’s left to do is season, toss it all together with parmesan, and serve. 
  • After draining the pasta, don’t rinse it! The starch on the surface helps the sauce cling to each strand of spaghetti. 
  • For an even thicker, creamier dish, you can puree about ⅓ of the fried zucchini slices in a food processor or blender. Toss the pureed zucchini in with the remaining ingredients at the end. 

👩‍🍳 Customize it

The simplicity of this recipe leaves plenty of room for customization. Here are some of the many ways you can make this spaghetti with veggies your own:

  • Add flavor-enhancing aromatics – In a large skillet, saute finely diced sweet onion or shallots and freshly minced garlic until softened. Then toss with cooked spaghetti, fried and seasoned zucchini, and cheese.
  • Bring variety to the veggies – Try making this dish with zucchini and yellow squash. Fried mushrooms would also be delicious!
  • Gluten free pasta Nerano – Use your favorite long, thin gluten free pasta noodles.
  • Vegetarian/vegan – Use your favorite meltable vegan parmesan or mozzarella instead of real parmesan cheese.
  • Finish with a crunch – Top the finished spaghetti with a layer of flavorful, subtly crisp homemade or store-bought breadcrumbs or crushed homemade croutons.
Bowl of prepared spaghetti alla nerano.

🍽 Serving suggestions

The only thing you need to add to make this recipe a meal is thick, crusty bread to soak up the sauce. As for what else goes well with spaghetti alla Nerano, I suggest looking through these 40+ Easy Sides for Pasta or sticking with simple veggie-forward sides and salads, like:

PS. Don’t forget about these traditional Italian desserts!

🕕 Make ahead and storing

You can fry the zucchini up to 5 days ahead to get a headstart on this dish. Let the slices cool completely before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to toss them with the pasta.

Nerano-style spaghetti is best enjoyed hot from the skillet, so I don’t recommend making extras. If you have leftovers, store them in the fridge. Just know that once the dish cools down, the cheese clumps together. 

🍷 Wine pairings for spaghetti alla Nerano

  • Enjoy this delicate, flavorful pasta dish with a light, full-bodied white wine like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc
  • You could also go with a crisp Prosecco to match the sauce’s richness. 

Looking for more pasta and wine pairings? —> The 7 Best Wines to Pair with Pasta.

Bowl of prepared spaghetti with zucchini on counter.

🍝 More easy pasta recipes

🥒 More zucchini recipes

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Overhead shot of spaghetti alla nerano in white bowl with fork.

Spaghetti Alla Nerano

This Spaghetti alla Nerano recipe is a rich and creamy pasta made with fried zucchini and parmesan cheese. It’s a restaurant-worthy dish with gourmet flavors, but comes together in minutes!
5 from 33 votes
Print Pin
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Add the sunflower oil to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Fry the zucchini in the oil until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.
  • Combine the fried zucchini with basil and salt, to taste. Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente and reserve 2 cups pasta cooking liquid before draining.
  • Add the cooked pasta to a large skillet over medium low heat. Toss with the cooked zucchini, adding pasta cooking liquid, as needed, until the sauce reaches a creamy consistency.
  • Add the parmesan, and continue tossing, until the pasta is coated in the parmesan and zucchini and the sauce is nice and creamy. Season with additional salt, to taste.
  • Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve with additional parmesan on the side.

Notes

Zucchini can be made up to 5 days ahead of time.
Did you make this recipe?Mention @platingsandpairings or tag #platingsandpairings!

Equipment

Large Skillet

Nutrition

Calories: 1100kcal | Carbohydrates: 100g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 44mg | Sodium: 906mg | Potassium: 1130mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 1337IU | Vitamin C: 54mg | Calcium: 524mg | Iron: 3mg

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25 thoughts on “Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)”

  1. 5 stars
    This was incredible! My zucchini never quite browned the way yours did (maybe they were too crowded? Or maybe the veg oil should have been hotter?), but it didn’t matter one bit. Absolutely delicious.

    Reply
  2. “Add the sunflower oil to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.”

    A boil?! Does oil even boil?

    My second comment is, Isn’t that a lot of oil? Does it need to be that much? Seems wasteful.

    (I haven’t tried the recipe yet, so hopefully, I can leave this comment without a rating. If/when I do make it I will give it a rating.)

    Reply
    • Hi Tina – Yes! Oil boils. This recipes uses a lot of zucchini, so a lot of oil is necessary. You could use less, or even just saute the zucchini, but the traditional version of this recipe deep fries the zucchini. That’s what gives this dish it’s creamy texture. I hope that helps 🙂

      Reply
    • Tina- I had the same question. I thought it was a typo! And by looking at the 1000+ calories per serving, I guess it’s correct! I’m going to try this but I’m going to do the zucchini in a SS saucepan with plenty of oil to cover and that’s a reasonable amount of leftover oil to freeze for later use. It may not taste the same but I’ll save my splurges for when I visit Italy. Right now I’m thinking about my heart and swimsuit/sundress weather!!!

      Reply
  3. Thanks Erin! I’m definitely going to try this! I responded to Tina about the amount of oil and I’m going to work around it (and I’m not really keen when people make huge changes in my recipes😆) as I can’t afford to use up that much good oil even if I saved it and I won’t be cooking for a crowd. I’ll let you know how we like it! I adore Stanley and his show!

    Reply
  4. I tossed the zucchini with a T. of flour, then fried in batches in a small amout of oil, then drained on a wire rack (and salted with kosher salt)to stay crispy. Made a “roux” with 1.5 cups Parmigiano reggiano and 3T evoo then added the pasta water to that to make the sauce. Added the spaghetti, crispy zucchini and basil the tossed. This is our favorite summer pasta dish.

    Reply
  5. 5 stars
    Absolutely fantastic! I did include more zucchini just because we love it (3.5 lbs). Needed a little more than medium high to brown in 5-6 mins but was easy to figure out after the first batch. Probably my could have used 1/2 cup more pasta water. Had extra basil for garnish and added fresh ground black pepper for my tastes. A keeper!

    Reply
  6. I love zucchini and pasta. Growing up my Sicilian Mom would prepare fried zucchini over pasta with tomato sauce and also a tomato zucchini soup made with fresh vegetables from the garden. Fabulous recipe, thanks!

    Reply
  7. 5 stars
    This looks delicious! I don’t like tomato-based sauces on my pasta so this will work well for me. I’m definitely going to try it, but with fried Japanese eggplant slices.

    Reply
  8. Can’t wait to try this! Question: How well does this keep and reheat (say in the microwave since my breakroom at work doesn’t have an oven) for leftovers for the next day or two? I imagine the zucchini might be soggy if reheated?

    Reply
  9. Question: are you meant to put all the zucchini in at once or deep fry in batches? Frying in batches adds quite a lot to the cook time, but seems like the zucchini would not get quite as crisp if added all at once. Help?

    Reply
5 from 33 votes (30 ratings without comment)

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