After seeing Stanley Tucci’s zucchini pasta recipe on television, I knew I had to make this super simple but totally decadent pasta dish at home. Here’s how.
I may not be as talented an actor as Stanley Tucci, but I feel lucky as an Italian duck to have authentically eaten like him. Like many food lovers during the lockdown, I vicariously lived and ate through him in each and every episode of CNN’s Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. So before our recent trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, I made it a point to cook the zucchini with pasta recipe from Lo Scoglio in season one’s first episode before we left and then try as many versions when we were in Italy as I could find. While they were all a bit different from one another, Tucci’s version of zucchini pasta, aka spaghetti alla nerro. is definitely the one I’m keeping.
In this recipe, I didn’t stray far from Lo Scoglio’s recipe featured in the first episode, where thinly sliced zucchini is deep-fried in sunflower oil before being mixed with reserved pasta water, Parmesan cheese, and butter to create an ultra-simple sauce that lushly coats tendrils of pasta accented with sprigs of fresh basil. Why deep fry? Because it gives the zucchini a deep, richly sweet flavor impossible to achieve by simply steaming it or quickly pan frying. The zucchini is then combined with butter, Parmesan cheese, and pasta water to create a simple but luxurious sauce. Like most of the best Italian dishes, the beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity.
What’s in This Fried Zucchini Pasta
The ingredients in this pasta recipe are straightforward and simple, with reserved pasta water, Parmesan, and butter creating the simple sauce.
- Long pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine
- Sunflower oil or other high-smoke point oil
- Olive oil
- Parmesan cheese or aged parmigiano reggiano, or try pecorino romano for a saltier bite
- Fresh basil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
How to Make Stanley Tucci’s Zucchini Pasta (Spaghetti alla Nerano)
Slice the zucchini into thin coins. If you have a hand-held mandoline like this one, this is the time to use it. If not, use a sharp chef’s knife like this one to keep the zucchini thinly sliced.
Fry the thinly cut zucchini in sunflower oil at 350°F in a heavy bottom pot. With its high smoke point and neutral flavor, sunflower oil is the optimal oil to use here. As pointed out in Stanley Tucci’s first episode, deep-frying the zucchini in batches until its golden brown gives it the best flavor, so use plenty of oil for the zucchini to freely float and sizzle.
Transfer the zucchini to a plate or bowl topped with paper towels to absorb the excess oil, then refrigerate. Leaving the zucchini in the fridge helps them soften and concentrate in flavor. I did so for just 30-40 minutes, but Lo Scoglio’s chef recommends overnight.
How to Make the Pasta Sauce
Boil the pasta noodles until al dente, saving 1 cup of pasta water before draining. Pasta releases some of its gluten when boiled in water, making it a natural thickener for this sauce.
Warm the zucchini in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. This extra step takes the chill off the squash and the olive oil adds a lushness to the sauce.
Add 2 ladles of the reserved pasta water to the zucchini mixture and noodles, remove from the heat and toss with the grated cheese. Mix it all together well, adding more water as needed to coat the noodles and become saucy.
Finish the Dish
Add a generous knob of butter for a more velvety sauce. While totally optional, a pat of butter or two makes everything better, including the texture of the pasta sauce.
Add torn basil leaves and more Parmesan cheese. Serve this dish straight from the pan, or ladle into bowls with more parm and basil.
What to Serve with Zucchini Pasta
- Arugula Salad With Shaved Parmesan Three Ways
- Caesar Salad With Garlic Croutons
- Avocado and Tomato Salad
- Avocado Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
- Easy 5-Minute Parmesan Zucchini
More Pasta Recipes
- Mom’s Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Cacio e Pepe
- Pasta Pomodoro
- Bolognese Sauce with Pasta
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