This Italian courgette pasta, Spaghetti alla nerano, is a delicious light pasta recipe that is ready under 20 minutes! Make the most of the courgette/zucchini season in this family favourite, with courgettes pan fried in garlic flavoured olive oil before being tossed with spaghetti, parmesan and fresh basil.
Spaghetti alla nerano
Thought to have originated in a village called Nerano on south western Italian coast, spaghetti alla nerano was invented by restaurant owner, Maria Grazia in the 1950s. Some say it came about as the result of having diners in the restaurant, but nothing left in the kitchen other than a few zucchini from the garden, some pasta and a little cheese; others say it is traditionally made with a provolone cheese called provolone di monaco, a stretched curd cheese, and was thought about rather than being the product of necessity. Whichever way (I think I like the first option best) there are many variations of pasta with fried courgettes throughout Italy, as it was a simple peasant style dish – and delicious!
Why we love this recipe
- Ready in under 20 minutes – like my one pot tomato pasta, this is a quick and easy recipe that is so useful to have for busy nights.
- Simple and light pasta dish – the sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a little pasta water combine to make a sauce that coats the spaghetti, without the need for a heavy and rich pasta sauce.
- Handful of simple ingredients – pasta, zucchini/courgettes, cheese, olive oil and and basil.
- Great recipe to use up a glut of courgettes/zucchini from the garden.
- Frying the garlic clove in the olive oil then removing before adding the courgette allows the courgette to absorb all of that garlicky flavour.
- Zucchini/courgette – small green ones. I refer to courgettes and zucchini alternatively throughout the post as I am English and therefore grew up calling them courgettes, but living in Australia where they are called zucchini, I talk to my son about ‘zucchini’...
- Spaghetti – you could also use linguine, fettuccine, or tagliatelle.
- Garlic – a fresh garlic clove (or 2!) is needed in this recipe, it makes all the difference!
- Olive oil – use a good quality olive oil for this recipe.
- Fresh basil – adds a fresh perfume to the pasta dish. If you don’t have any basil to hand, see these substitutions for basil.
- Parmesan cheese – for vegetarians, check your parmesan is vegetarian. You can also use provolone in this dish. For a budget friendly alternative to parmesan, use a strong cheddar – not authentic, but still very tasty.
How to make this courgette pasta dish
(This instructions are for guidance only – for full detailed recipe, please see recipe card at the end of the post.)
- Cut courgette (zucchini) into slices.
- Fry garlic in oil.
- As soon as the garlic is golden, take it out of the pan.
- Add sliced zucchini (courgette).
- Meanwhile cook spaghetti in boiling water.
- Turn courgettes until they are golden.
- Drain on kitchen paper towel and season.
- Add them back to the pan with the cooked spaghetti.
- Add freshly grated parmesan and fresh basil.
Yes! Adding salt to the pasta water when the water comes to the boil, just before you add the pasta, allows the salt to be absorbed by the pasta as it cooks, enhancing the flavour of the pasta.
The starchy water that the pasta has cooked in helps bind sauce to the pasta, give the pasta dish a smooth and silky texture and the salty water adds flavour too.
Yes. The Italian word for marrow is ‘zucca’ and zucchini is the plural masculine.
My recipe tips
- Remove the garlic as soon as it become mid-golden brown. It will turn dark very quickly and can taste bitter.
- Frying the zucchini/courgettes until blistered and dark brown adds flavour and texture to them.
- Cook the pasta to al dente – having a little bite to the spaghetti works with the soft zucchini/courgette.
- Remember to save the pasta water – this is full of starch that mixes with the Parmesan to make a creamy sauce.
- More garlic – you can use 2 cloves of garlic for a stronger garlic taste. I keep it milder for my younger family members.
This pasta makes a delicious family dinner in itself, but here are some ideas for sides…
- With a few slices of air fryer garlic bread
- A simple, crunchy leafy salad like this walnut parmesan salad
This pasta dish is best eaten fresh. However, if you do have leftovers, you can store them in the fridge for up to three days, and reheat over a gently heat with a splash of water.
More Savoury Italian recipes for you
Some delicious Italian desserts and baking recipes for you
To make a tasty Italian feast, why not enjoy one of these recipes after your zucchini pasta:
Spaghetti alla nerano
- 320g (11oz) spaghetti ($0.64 / £0.48)
- 800g (28oz) courgette/zucchini, approx 4-5 small – medium ($5.50 / £1.60)
- 80g (2.8oz) parmesan, grated (Make sure it's vegetarian parmesan if vegetarian) ($2.00 / £1.44)
- 1 clove garlic ($0.13 / £0.03)
- handful fresh basil, roughly torn ($1.50 / £0.30)
- 3 tablespoon olive oil ($0.48 / £0.24)
- sea salt ($0.01 / £0.01)
- cracked black pepper ($0.02 / £0.01)
- Slice the courgette/zucchini into circles around 1 cm (0.4") thick.
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add some salt.
- Cut the garlic clove in half and place in a frying pan with the olive oil. Gently heat until lightly golden.
- As soon as the garlic is lightly golden, remove from the pan and add the courgettes/zucchini. Take care as they can spit a bit. You may have to cook them in two batches, depending on size of your frying pan.
- Meanwhile place the spaghetti in the water and cook per packet instructions.
- Turn the zucchini/courgette occasionally until medium brown and blistered. If you turn them too much they won't achieve this – and this adds flavour!
- Once brown both sides, remove to kitchen paper towel on a plate to remove excess oil. (Cook the second batch if cooking in batches).
- Season the cooked zucchini/courgette with salt and black pepper.
- When the spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain well, keeping a cup/ 240ml of the cooking water, then add the pasta to the frying pan you cooked the zucchini/courgette in.
- Add the cooked zucchini/courgette back to the pan with the spaghetti with the grated parmesan, half the basil and a little of the cooking water.
- Heat over a gentle heat until the parmesan has melted, adding a little more pasta water if it's getting too dry – the sauce should be creamy. Transfer to serving plates and sprinkle over a little more grated parmesan and the rest of the torn basil, to serve.