Spaghetti alla Nerano is a delicious pasta recipe typical of the Campania cuisine, based on a few simple ingredients: pasta, fried zucchini, provolone cheese and basil.
The pleasure of this dish lies in the contrast between the flavors and textures of the ingredients. The fried zucchini adds a hint of sweetness and a crunchy texture that contrasts with the creaminess of the provolone cheese. The fresh basil adds a pleasant aromatic and fresh note to the dish.
The name of this recipe comes from the place where it was created. Nerano is a charming seaside village near the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.
Provolone del Monaco, the tasty cheese used in this recipe, is famous in this citadel. It’s an aged cheese typical of the Lattari Mountains, slightly spicy and very tasty.
The trick to having creamy spaghetti alla Nerano is to “risottare” them with the cooking water and the sauce, adding the grated cheese only when the heat is off (“risottare” means to cook like a risotto). Low-temperature Provolone, as in Cacio e Pepe or as in Pasta alla Gricia, will create the tasty creaminess.
Pasta alla Nerano is perfect all year round, although in Campania it’s considered a summer recipe. In fact, zucchini in summer are very fresh, sweet and tender, ideal for this recipe.
Pasta alla Nerano is suitable as a first course for lunch and dinner, not only every day, but also for more special occasions.
So let’s see how to make Spaghetti alla Nerano step by step, with all the tips and tricks to get a great result!
- Prep Time: 10 Min
- Cook Time: 20 Min
- Servings: 4
- 360 g (3/4 pound) of spaghetti di Gragnano
- 700 g (1 1/2 pound) of zucchini
- 200 g (~1/2 pound) of Provolone del Monaco. If you wish to substitute this ingredient, see the paragraph below “How to substitute Provolone del Monaco cheese”.
- 1 clove of garlic
- 650 ml (~3 cups) of extra virgin olive oil
- about 10 basil leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
Spaghetti alla Nerano Recipe: Instructions
Step 1) – To prepare Spaghetti alla Nerano, start by washing the zucchini. Remove the ends. Then, using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice them very thinly and as evenly as possible.
Step 2) – Dry the zucchini with paper towels.
Then fry them in a pan with plenty of hot extra virgin oil. We recommend frying a few zucchini at a time to prevent the oil temperature from dropping. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
The zucchini should be golden brown and crispy.
Step 3) – Place the zucchini on paper towels to dry, season with a pinch of salt and add the basil. Set aside.
Meanwhile, grate the provolone cheese with a small hole grater and set aside.
Step 4) – In a large frying pan, add 4 tablespoons of the oil you fried the zucchini in and the whole garlic clove. Saute the garlic for one minute.
Then add the fried zucchini. Saute for two or three minutes. Then remove the garlic.
Step 5) – Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and when it comes to the boil, add salt.
Add the spaghetti and cook for about half the time indicated on the package.
Step 6) – Drain the uncooked spaghetti directly into the pan with the zucchini. Add a ladle of the cooking water and stir well. Finish cooking the spaghetti in the pan.
This method is called “risottare,” or cooking in the pan like risotto. It takes 3 to 4 minutes. If necessary, add another ladle of pasta cooking water.
Step 7) – Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated provolone cheese.
If the spaghetti looks dry, add a little more pasta water. Stir until the pasta and cheese are perfectly blended.
PLEASE NOTE: You must make the Provolone Mantecatura away from heat to avoid the cheese lumping while remaining creamy.
Finish with a grind of black pepper and chopped fresh basil. Serve the spaghetti alla Nerano immediately, steaming and creamy.
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How to Store Spaghetti alla Nerano
Spaghetti alla Nerano should be eaten hot and creamy. If they are reheated, they may lose their creaminess and taste.
However, if you have leftovers, you can store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Then reheat them in a frying pan over low heat, adding a little water.
Freezing is not recommended.
Key Ingredient: Provolone del Monaco
The main ingredient of Pasta alla Nerano is a particular cheese: Provolone del Monaco.
It’s a semi-hard, spin-ripened cheese that is among the DOP products of Campania. Its taste is slightly spicy and its texture, in contact with the heat of the pasta, is pleasant and very creamy.
For this reason it’s perfect for making Spaghetti alla Nerano, giving the dish its characteristic taste. Otherwise it would be a common pasta with zucchini and cheese.
What is the Origin of its Curious Name?
The most widely accepted theory about the origin of the name “Provolone del Monaco” is that the cheese-makers, with their load of provolone from the various villages of the Sorrento peninsula, used to cover themselves with a sackcloth cloak, similar to the one worn by monks, to protect themselves from the cold and damp.
When they arrived in Naples, the people who worked in the market began to call them “monks” and the cheese they carried with them became Provolone del Monaco.
This theory, which seems to be the most true, suggests that this provolone is not specifically related to the area of Nerano, but to products from a wider area of Campania.
How to Substitute Provolone del Monaco?
Considering that Provolone del Monaco is typical of a certain area of Campania, it’s not always easy to find it.
Therefore, in order to make Spaghetti alla Nerano, we often have to substitute this ingredient, even if reluctantly.
There are also those who use one part Pecorino Romano and one part Parmigiano Reggiano.
Spaghetti alla Nerano: Some Variations
This is a very simple recipe with few ingredients. There is not much room for variation unless you want to risk changing the recipe completely. However, we can suggest some minor modifications.
- THE CHEESE: To substitute the Provolone del Monaco, see the previous paragraph. Many add a little Parmigiano to the provolone.
- THE PASTA: Another variation concerns the type of pasta. Traditionally, spaghetti from Gragnano, another Campania excellence, is used. It’s important to use durum wheat of good quality. If you prefer short pasta, paccheri and fusilli are also very suitable for this recipe.
- AIR FRYER: For a lighter dish, you can fry the zucchini in an air fryer and add a little raw extra virgin olive oil when serving. Of course, the flavor will not be the same. But you will certainly have fewer calories.
History and Origins of Spaghetti alla Nerano
Actually, there is no real “official history” regarding the recipe for Spaghetti alla Nerano: fried zucchini, pasta and caciocavallo cheese are three ingredients common to all homes in the area, and it’s likely that people’s needs gave rise to this recipe.
Sorry to disappoint the more nostalgic, but it’s almost certain that spaghetti alla Nerano was simply invented by local housewives who casually combined three homemade ingredients.
However, there is a legend about this famous dish, which certainly has a kernel of truth.
According to this legend, the dish was first created in the 1950s in honor of Francesco Caravita, Prince of Sirignano, known as Pupetto.
It is said that he frequented the restaurant Maria Grazia, a small fishermen’s trattoria that over time became very famous, thanks in part to the anecdote we are telling you.
In 1952, Pupetto, a well-known figure in society at the time, arrived at the restaurant, but Maria Grazia’s pantry was practically empty.
The kitchen had to make with what they could find: the last zucchini from the family garden, the remains of caciocavallo cheese, some pecorino and dried caciotta, oil, salt, spaghetti and water to boil the pasta in.
Before serving, a few basil leaves and voilà, the first spaghetti alla Nerano were served to the Prince of Sirignano.
That evening marked the “official” birth of Spaghetti alla Nerano.
Today this recipe has become a regional symbol with a legend that generates fascination and curiosity.