Everyone's talking about Stanley Tucci's zucchini pasta - so much so that we had to give it a go! Using an incredible kilo or 2.2 pounds of zucchini or courgette it's a deliciously simple Italian pasta dish using ingredients that you have to hand! Let's give it a try!
In the first episode of the tv show "Searching for Italy" Stanley Tucci visits Nerano, a gorgeous, tiny fishing village half way between Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. He proclaimed his love for this simple zucchini pasta dish "Spaghetti alla Nerano" made with fried zucchini slices, extra virgin olive oil, basil and parmesan. The zucchini slices caramelise in the deep frying process and in time soften up in the fridge so that they break down and make a lovely, simple pasta sauce. While Stanley Tucci is now linked to this dish in modern culture, it was actually invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, served at her eponymous restaurant in Nerano.
Everyone has an opinion of this pasta ranging from "Sublime!" to "Eh, it's ok but I wouldn't make it again". Quite honestly when I tried a version I found online I thought it was ok but I felt like it needed more but perhaps it's because it's not using the original ingredients (small Italian zucchinis and Provolone del Monaco, a teardrop shaped semi-hard, kneaded-curd, matured cow's milk cheese). This version, if I can immodestly offer, tips this towards the sublime category but it does interfere with the original recipe of Spaghetti alla Nerano.
This pasta although made of simple ingredients does take a little time mainly in cooking the zucchini and then resting overnight in the fridge. I've heard people make this in the air fryer to save on using oil too. A mandolin will make fast work of slicing the zucchini and I would most certainly hesitate with slicing the zucchini with a knife both in terms of losing patience and keeping the zucchini uniform so that it cooks easily. Having made this many times (as 6 small zucchini pop up regularly in my vege box delivery), I can confirm that if you don't have time for the zucchini to soften overnight it will be fine. The zucchini will soften up fine if you cook it straight away because you're breaking it down in the pasta water to create a mantecare, or a creamy sauce.
I would say that a dish like this is perfect for Valentine's Day coming up because it is a labour of love making all of this for your beloved but also because it also has a simple beauty to it and it's not about grand gestures necessarily but thoughtful ones. In the run up I have made this a lot for Mr NQN who adores this and pasta. Lately Mr NQN has found being a dog parent a challenge. Now that we've got the doggy door we thought all of our problems were solved with the Teddy and Milo. Mr NQN was excited that he didn't have to wake up early or stay up until midnight to let Milo and Teddy out to pee and he had grand dreams of slumbering until late while on weekends and holidays. But that smug satisfaction lasted about a week and with a solution came a new problem. Teddy the protector. Our tiny 3.8kg/8.3lb toy poodle was now free to access the backyard freely to protect it against his mortal enemy...cats!
No matter what time of the day or night he might run out and start barking if he hears a noise. 2am? No problem! Tiny Teddy is on the case! He races downstairs off the bed, out the doggy door and furiously barks at the cats. It plays havoc with Mr NQN's sleep (I sleep soundly with earplugs). His dreams of sleep-ins were fading quickly. We can close the doggy door but we don't want Milo to be restricted (puppies have to pee more often). So one night Mr NQN grabbed Teddy's lead and collar and tethered him so that he couldn't go downstairs and wake the whole neighbourhood.
When I woke up I saw Teddy with his collar on and Mr NQN slumbering soundly. Teddy looked contemplative and I told Mr NQN, "Teddy is having an existential crisis". Teddy was clearly perplexed at this unexpected turn of events. He thought that he was doing his job of protecting but could it be that his services weren't necessary?
So tell me Dear Reader, do you think you'd like this pasta dish? What do you think you'll eat this Valentine's Day?
Stanley Tucci's Zucchini Pasta
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 20 minutes (best started 1 or 2 days before)
Cooking time: 30 + 10 minutes
- Sunflower or canola oil for deep frying
- 1kg/2.2lbs zucchini (around 5-6 small ones), top and tailed
- 400g/14ozs. spaghetti or bucatini
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons capers, finely chopped (or 100g/3.5ozs. guanciale)
- 75g/2.6ozs butter
- 3 basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 cup/80g/3ozs. parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
Step 1 - One or two days before you want to eat this, heat an inch of oil in a large pot or deep fryer until it reaches 180C/350F. With a mandolin slice the zucchini on the middle setting (2 out of 3). Gently lower a handful of the zucchini slices in the oil and fry until golden in colour. Using a slotted spoon remove from the pot and place in a bowl or container and repeat with the rest of the zucchini (I don't blot these on a paper towel as you need a bit of oil when you recook it the next day). Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight to soften.
Step 2 - Place a large pot of salted water to boil and start boiling the pasta. Then add the softened zucchini in a frying pan along with the garlic and capers or guanciale and fry for 2-3 minutes. Then add 2 ladlefuls of pasta water, basil leaves and butter allow the zucchini to soften and a sauce to develop. Add the parmesan and a little more pasta water if you need it. Season well with salt and pepper (this is very important).
Step 3 - Using tongs lift the pasta from the big pot into the saucepan and stir to coat with the sauce and distributing the zucchini and flavours among the pasta. Remove from the heat and place on plates and serve with extra parmesan and basil on top.