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Spaghetti alla Nerano
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HAPPY ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY TO GOOD MOOD FOOD! Hard to believe that already a year has gone by since I started this newsletter. When I committed to running this thing, I was nervous about becoming overworked, curious if anyone would join me on a different platform, perplexed as to how I would have enough content to fill up two newsletters a week!
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When Grant and I went to the Amalfi coast last October, there was one dish that I knew I couldn’t leave without trying: spaghetti alla Nerano. This cheesy, zucchini-filled pasta dish was invented on the Amalfi coast, in a town called (you guessed it), Nerano (which technically, is actually on the Sorrentine peninsula). Restaurant owner Maria Grazia is widely attributed as the creator of this dish, and her restaurant is still around today.
Grant and I actually had reservations to eat at Ristorante Maria Grazia Nerano, but we had to shift our schedule in order to take the ferry over to Ischia, so we had to cancel. I was super bummed but still very determined to try spaghetti alla Nerano during our stay. I searched Yelp long and hard for places that served it, and after a day trip to Pompeii, we raced the clock, winding down the little hillside of Sorrento to make it to a restaurant I had found before closing time. We were both starving by the time we got there, but it was absolutely worth the wait. As someone who loves pasta, loves zucchini, and loves cheese, spaghetti alla Nerano does not disappoint.
Making this dish at home is fairly easy. You essentially fry up some zucchini, and then make a sauce out of the zucchini, basil, some cheese, and (very important) pasta water. The prep is much like making a cacio e pepe, where you want the cheese and the pasta water to meld together into a silky sauce. You really have to mix it vigorously to make sure your cheese doesn’t congeal.
A few things to note!
Traditionally, spaghetti alla nerano is made with Provolone del Monaco, a semi-hard cheese that’s difficult to find in the US. Your next best option is caciocavallo, but I had a hard time finding that as well, and the guy at the cheese stand told me to go for the third best, which is pecorino romano. This gives it more of a cacio e pepe vibe again, but I promise you, the zucchini sets this dish apart. It didn’t really taste like cacio e pepe to me (shh, I like it better).
Finally, as you can see from the name, it’s spaghetti alla nerano, but I had so much bucatini sitting in my pantry, I really didn’t want to go out and buy even more pasta when I had some already. So, I used bucatini in this, but traditionally, it’s spaghetti. Please don’t yell at me, Italians!! I know the difference!!
I hope you enjoy this incredible Italian dish!
Recipe adapted from M.A Kitchen.
Spaghetti alla Nerano
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
A lot of olive oil!
2 small/medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
8 oz spaghetti (I used bucatini because I had an abundance in my pantry)
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 cup grated Provolone del Monaco, caciocavallo, or pecorino romano
Handful of torn basil
Parmesan, to top
1. In a large, deep pan, heat up a couple inches of olive oil on medium heat. Fry the zucchini in a single layer until they just start to turn brown, and then transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain out the excess oil. I did the zucchini in two batches to make sure not to overcrowd the pan. Once the zucchini are done, sprinkle with salt.
2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil (really salt that water, because you’re going to use it in your sauce later). Cook until pasta is very al dente. While pasta is cooking, begin preparing the sauce. Using about 1 tbsp of your remaining olive oil, heat up the pan to medium heat, add the garlic, and cook for a minute or two to infuse the oil. Remove the garlic clove from the pan.
3. Add the zucchini to the pan (set aside a few for garnish, if desired), along with a ladleful of pasta water. Cook for a minute or two, and when the pasta is ready, add it into to the pan along with the cheese, the basil, and another ladleful of pasta water. Remove from heat, and immediately begin to vigorously stir the pasta mixture. Continue to stir thoroughly until the sauce is silky and smooth. If it’s too dry, add more water, and if it’s too runny, keep stirring or add a bit more cheese. The sauce should be smooth and even.
4. Transfer to a bowl and top with pepper, some more fresh basil, and a sprinkle of Parmesan!
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
Last week’s recipe is for all my plant-loving babies: Honey Lemon Thyme Squash and Chickpea Salad! The way the squash is soft like a cheese, contrasted with these little toasty za’atar walnuts… just make it and see for yourself!!
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