Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That’s all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you’ve got a feast for family or friends.
The Italian island of Capri is a paradise for veggie and seafood lovers. When I visited in July, I knew not to expect Americanized dishes like meatballs and chicken Parmesan, but I was struck by just how much focus was placed on meatless options. Chicken and beef were entirely absent from my diet, while fresh produce and the bounty of the sea took center stage. One dish in particular made a frequent appearance on restaurant menus across the island, and each time I ordered it, it was among the best bites of my day: spaghetti alla nerano.
It translates simply to “spaghetti with zucchini,” and the dish itself is just as simple. It’s rich and creamy yet light at the same time, making full use of zucchini’s natural sweetness and silky texture. This is my loose take on that memorable pasta, which I set out to develop almost as soon as I returned home.
Late summer is the best time to make it, when produce is at its peak. Don’t spring for top-shelf olive oil here, since the heat would mute its nuances, but do opt for well-sourced zucchini if you have access to a local farmers’ market.
Sizzling the zucchini in a generous amount of olive oil helps concentrate its flavor while producing an appealingly browned exterior with a creamy, soft inside.
The slices will wilt down quite a bit as the water escapes them, so don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity of zucchini here. Adding it in two batches, rather than overcrowding the pan, promotes browning and avoids reducing the temperature too much or steaming the veggies.
I like to add a squeeze of lemon just before serving for a nice zing and to accentuate the dish’s overall freshness, but taste beforehand to see where your preferences lie. You might prefer the more straightforward creamy zucchini flavor.
That zing can also come from a wine pairing, like the one I selected: Castello Banfi Pinot Grigio Toscana San Angelo 2021. Bright enough to bring some freshness but rich enough to pair with pasta, the wine matches the dish’s delicate nature. Though Tuscany is well north of Capri, something about the combination of flavors tastes just like a sun-soaked afternoon on the Amalfi Coast.
Spaghetti with Zucchini
Pair with a light-bodied white wine that has lively acidity upfront as well as some richness to the flavors and texture, such as Castello Banfi Pinot Grigio Toscana San Angelo 2021 (88 points, $20).
Prep-time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Approximate food costs: $20
- 4 ounces spaghetti
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 zucchini, sliced thinly into rounds
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 lemon wedge (optional)
1. In a large pot, boil well-salted water and cook the spaghetti for 6 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic gloves and let fry for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often, then fish them out and discard. Add half the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, then add the remaining zucchini, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes more until most slices have turned a deep brown.
3. Reduce heat to low and add the pasta to the pan with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and the Parmesan cheese. Stir and gradually add more pasta water if needed to reach the desired texture. Stir in the butter and cook for 1 minute more until the spaghetti is fully coated in the sauce.
4. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed, then add a squeeze of lemon if desired. Serve immediately with extra cheese on the side. Serves 4.