Though many attributions circulate, it’s widely accepted that spaghetti alla Nerano was invented by restaurateur Maria Grazia in 1952, named for the restaurant’s location: a beach town built into the mountains of the Amalfi Coast. Now run by two of Grazia’s grandchildren, the restaurant’s original recipe remains a closely guarded secret but contains fried courgette, spaghetti, and provolone del Monaco.
Provolone del Monaco (or “Monk’s Provolone”) is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from the Monti Lattari area of Italy, which becomes slightly spicy during maturation. While the use of provolone del Monaco is highly recommended for this take on the classic spaghetti alla Nerano recipe, a number of substitutes can be used if absolutely necessary. Caciocavallo is a popular alternative, as are other spicy provolone cheeses. Otherwise, a mixture of 70 percent Pecorino Romano and 30 percent Parmigiano Reggiano can be used in attempt to approximate the provolone del Monaco’s tanginess.
As for the courgettes, the thin, green kind are essential for spaghetti alla Nerano. Given that the courgettes are deep fried in sunflower oil, the thin variety work particularly well as they contain far less water. Once fried, the majority of the courgette slices are returned to a saucepan with just a splash of olive oil and cooked slowly while being stirred constantly. This helps to break them up to make a sauce. Simply stir in a few ripped basil leaves and a knob of butter, plus the cheese and a ladle of pasta water. Keep stirring until the cheese melts completely and mixes well with the water to produce a creamy sauce. Finally add the al dente spaghetti and keep stirring for a minute or so, then finish with more cheese. A delicious, light, vegetable-based pasta dish that can also be made vegetarian by using a cheese alternative without rennet.
Spaghetti alla Nerano Recipe
- 6 small/medium green courgettes
- 250 g spaghetti
- 4 basil leaves ripped
- 150 g provolone del Monaco alternatively use a mixture of 105g Pecorino Romano and 45g Parmigiano Reggiano
- 50 g butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt
- Sunflower oil for frying
- Heat sunflower oil in a deep fryer or a large saucepan (no more than half-filled with oil) to 180C.
- While the oil is heating, cut the courgettes into 3-5mm slices, trying to make each slice as equal as possible.
- Once the oil is hot enough, add the courgettes in at least two batches and fry until lightly browned, approx. 4-5 minutes.
- Transfer the fried courgette to a plate or board lined with kitchen roll to drain then repeat with the next batch.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, until it’s around 2 minutes away from being cooked al dente. This should take between 8-10 minutes.
- While the spaghetti is cooking, heat a splash of olive oil in a clean pan and add roughly three quarters of the fried courgette slices and a generous pinch of salt. Stir constantly over medium heat until they begin to break up.
- Add a ladle of the pasta water and continue to stir until the courgettes and water create a thick, coarse sauce. Add the basil leaves to the pan with the butter and most of the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese melts and combines with the water to form a creamy sauce. Add more pasta water if necessary.
- Once the pasta is ready, use tongs to drain it straight into the pan with the courgettes and stir constantly for a minute or two until everything is combined, adding more water if necessary.
- Serve and garnish with a little more cheese and a handful of the remaining fried courgette slices.