My husband is not a fan of zucchini but he likes this easy, fragrant dish from the Amalfi coast of Italy. It’s also a great vehicle for either getting over chemo blahs, or an... overabundance of zucchini if you grow them! This Zucchini Pasta alla Nerano is simplicity itself so use the freshest ingredients you can. You would think it uses a lot of oil, but the zucchinis are twice cooked, and much of the oil from the first cooking is drained. This dish is also a good way to use up the larger zucchini, though I always go for the smaller ones whenever possible. Either a sharp chef knife or a mandoline will make the best job of the slicing. Traditionally this pasta is served with paccheri, a large, chewy Neapolitan pasta. If that’s not an option pappardelle or penne are just fine, but be sure not to overcook them. Leave your pasta with some bite!
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a wide sauté pan over a medium high flame. Add the zucchini slices and sauté until they shrink and get browned at the edges, about 8 minutes. As they caramelize, remove from the pan to drain on paper towels until the pan is empty. Set the pan aside off the flame.
Move the zucchini to a sieve. Plunge the sieve into the boiling pasta water for 1 minute as if to rinse the zucchini. Set the sieve aside to drain on paper towel. Meanwhile tip the pasta into the boiling water and cook 1 minute less than the shortest time on the packet. The pasta should be just al dente and quite chewy. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the water.
Meanwhile add the remaining oil to the zucchini pan over a medium high flame. When hot, add the garlic and cook until it just starts to color, about 1 minute. Add the rinsed zucchini from the sieve and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Add the pecorino, stir to mix then add ¼ cup of the pasta water. Mix well. Cook until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes. Add more water if the zucchini sauce looks dry.
Stir in the basil leaves, cook 1 minute then add the pasta, plus any remaining water if the sauce looks like it needs it. Cook stirring one minute more. Serve immediately with extra grated pecorino cheese.
This is one dish I prefer to make with organic white pasta instead of whole-wheat. If you use whole-wheat pasta, use spaghetti or fettuccine.