I Tried Stanley Tucci’s Recipe for Zucchini Pasta and My Only Regret Is Not Trying It Sooner
In the show, Tucci pays homage to his Italian heritage, exploring a vast culinary landscape while sampling the unique cuisines of the country’s 20 regions. His gastronomic odyssey highlights regional specialities — some which have, unsurprisingly, broken the internet with their elevated simplicity.
In Episode 1, Season 1, the Golden Globe winner winds his way through the Amalfi coast. It is in the small seaside town of Nerano, nestled in between Naples and Sorrento, that Tucci introduces us to the one and only Pasta alla Nerano — aptly named for its place of origin. The dish, which he deems as “life-changing,” rose to prominence at local restaurant Lo Scoglio, where Tucci and his wife tried their hand at the dish after several attempts to replicate it at home.
How to Make Spaghetti Alle Zucchine
This recipe is best prepared in two parts. If you’re short on time, however, you can prepare the meal at once — although Lo Scoglio recommends allowing the zucchini to soften overnight in the fridge.
In the meantime, heat your sunflower oil in a large, high-sided frying pan. You’ll want at least an inch of oil to ensure the zucchini is fully submerged. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, you can test your oil by dropping a slice of zucchini in and listening for the sizzle.
Once the oil is ready, carefully place the zucchini in the pan and fry until golden-brown. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan — you will need to fry the rounds in batches. Remove the zucchini from the pan to drain on a paper towel and, once cooled, transfer to a container to soften overnight in the fridge.
Julienne or tear some fresh basil leaves to incorporate into your softened zucchini. There are several variations of pasta alla nerano, some using basil leaves in the zucchini mixture, and others simply using basil as a garnish. Because I had an overabundance of fresh basil, I incorporated some here.
Heat up a skillet with your neutral oil to reheat the zucchini mixture, gently smashing it as it cooks. A wooden spoon is ideal for this.
Meanwhile, generously salt a pot of boiling water to cook your spaghetti. Once the spaghetti is al dente, transfer it to the skillet, along with 1 to 2 spoonfuls of that delightfully starchy pasta water. Reduce heat to low and let the liquid evaporate.
Add in your freshly grated cheese (see note below) and a generous pat of butter, and gently incorporate it until all the pasta is coated in that luxuriously silky sauce.
Once your pasta is ready for plating, top with more freshly grated cheese and a sprig of basil.
Note on the cheese: Traditionally, this recipe is made using a spicy cow’s milk cheese local to Sorrento, named Provolone del Monaco. While you can find similar varieties at specialty food stores or Italian Markets, Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano are flavorful equivalents.
My Honest Review of Spaghetti Alle Zucchine
What I assumed to be a humble pasta dish ended up as a decadent main course. The delicate zucchini rounds, which had caramelized during cooking, melted into the sauce, giving each bite a sweet, rich flavor. The cheese packed a salty punch, while the basil brightened up the dish with the freshness of a late-summer meal. Served with a round of crusty bread and some ambient “Volare” in the background, it only left me longing for a glass of crisp white wine.
3 Tips for Making Spaghetti Alle Zucchine
- Quality is key. With so few ingredients, this dish offers a canvas for every flavor and texture to shine. A quality cheese or European butter is the splurge that enhances each flavor and brings the zucchini to life.
- Have fun with it. If you’re looking to break out of your pasta rut, try a variety such as bucatini, mafaldine, or fusilli col buco. The unique shape makes for a tasty vessel to soak up all of that exquisite sauce.
- Stay neutral. While olive oil may seem like a sensible alternative, this recipe calls for sunflower oil due to its neutral flavor and high smoke point — ideal for frying. If sunflower oil isn’t accessible to you, you may consider other flavorless options such as grapeseed oil or vegetable oil.