Sunday, 4 April 2021

Italy Found

After a quiet holiday Sunday spent with family on a deck near a barbecue that was earning its keep, I have to say that I've barely given hockey a thought today. In starting this artile with that line, I'm going to tell you this isn't a hockey article, but one of those rare food articles I write on this blog. Anyway, last week was a trying week in some regards, but I did enjoy the baseball logos project that kept me going and helped build some new Photoshop skills. Tonight, though, I settled in with a television show that I've been watching for the last number of weeks as CNN began replaying the episodes of highly-regarded tourism show in Stanley Tucci's Searching For Italy.

Some may call this a cooking show, but I tend to disagree as Tucci's travels throughout Italy are more about the people and regions than they are about the food. The food, however, ties everything together nicely, but I've always been under the impression that cooking shows actually show you how to make the food being shown. If one were to call Searching For Italy a food tourism show, I'd agree entirely.

I won't lie that I love the idea of seeing Italy's entirety through the eyes of Tucci. I took ancient Roman history in university, and I loved every moment of it as we learned about all the great monuments, achievements, and historical moments of ancient Rome. However, there was never a talk of the culture at that time - the foods, the beverages, the local flora and fauna that led to the food and beverages - outside of mentioning something to which we could relate as students when talking about an empire two millenia ago.

I happen to travel like Tucci did in this series; that is, I like to travel and experience foods that are local to those regions, so my appreciation for this CNN series is high. I'm also a fan of Stanley Tucci, so that only made the idea of a food tourism show starring him more intriguing. Needless to say, my Sunday nights were occupied with pasta, cheeses, wine, and the regions of Italy that he visited.

Regarding the image above, Tucci and his wife, Felicity, stopped at a restaurant for a pasta that he said "changed his life". That pasta dish that he and Felicity are eating is called spaghetti alla nerano, and I made this this week for myself to see if Tucci was selling me a life-changing pasta dish or if he was simply full of noodles. I'll post my thoughts below, but here's the recipe for Spaghetti Alla Nerano as seen on Stanley Tucci's Searching For Italy!


400g or 14oz of spaghetti 800g or 1.5lbs of zucchini, fresh
200g or 7oz of 70% Pecorino - 30% Parmigiano cheeses, grated
2-3 cloves of garlic
fresh basil
enough sunflower oil to create a frying vat
olive oil for sautéing
salt and pepper

There are no set amounts on the oils and butter because you need to judge these accordingly. I'll discuss this more below as we work through this recipe, but you'll see why these amounts may vary.


  1. Thinly slice the zucchini so they resemble the thickness of potato chips. Make sure the zucchini is sweet by tasting it - the sweetness is what gives this dish a unique freshness. If the zucchini is bitter, do not use it.
  2. Dry the zucchini on paper towels to remove as much moisture from the chips as possible. The longer they dry for, the better the crispiness will be when fried.
  3. Fill a small saucepan with enough oil to create a fry vat for the chips. Do not pan-fry these chips - they must be fried in oil. Heat the oil on medium-high, and allow the zucchini chips to fry to a golden brown once the oil is hot. DO NOT BURN!
  4. Remove from the oil when golden brown and pat-dry with paper towels to remove any excess oil. Place into a container with some torn basil leaves, and place into the fridge overnight. We want the zucchini's sweetness to absorb some of the basil's flavour while softening slightly. If you're compelled, you can use the zucchini right out of the frying process, but I allow mine to soften somewhat for a later step.
  5. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the spaghetti to al dente. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
  6. In a sauce pan, drizzle the olive oil on the bottom, and sauté the garlic until golden.
  7. Drain the pasta. In quick succession, remove the garlic cloves from the saucepan, add in enough butter to coat the amount of spaghetti you have, and add in the zucchini.
  8. TEEBZ'S DEVIATION: If you chose to soften the zucchini, grab your immersion blender and use it to blend in the zucchini until chunky with the butter and garlic-infused olive oil. I prefer the zucchini's flavours to blend with the oils, so I do this step quickly before moving to the next step.
  9. Add in the spaghetti to the hot saucepan mixture in order to finish cooking the spaghetti while stirring the pasta-zucchini mixture to coat the pasta.
  10. Add half of the cheese at the end and continue to mix to turn the pasta into a gooey, cheesy, zucchini-infused sauce over the pasta. Remove from heat and add a few more torn basil leaves until the pasta in the sauce is creamy.
  11. Drain off excess sauce where possible, and serve while sprinkling with the leftover cheese. Garnish with pepper.
That doesn't sound too difficult, right? The key, in all of this, is the sweet zucchini. If the zucchini is sweet, you get the saltiness from the cheese, the earthiness from the basil and garlic, the punch from the pepper, and the sweetness from the zucchini all in one bite. Fresh zucchini is the key here, folks, so don't go buying older zucchini from your supermarket if you want the best flavours in this dish.

The untopped finished product for me looked like the image to the right which I snapped shortly before adding cheese and pepper. To say it smelled divine would be an understatement, so Tucci was halfway to his promised life-changing pasta. If you notice, I use linguini instead of spaghetti as I prefer a heartier noodle for my pasta, but I would assume that regular spaghetti would be fine. If you can, get fresh pasta too. That always makes a difference in any pasta dish, I find. You'll also notice no large zucchini chips on my pasta - I blended them into the sauce to add as I stated in the "deviation" direction above.

The finished product that I devoured was the image to the left, and I have to say that this was an entirely delicious dish. Normally, one would associate a tomato-based or cream-based sauce with pasta, but the zucchini mixture brought the sweet, salty, earthy flavours to the pasta rather than the acidic tomato flavours or the often-salty cream-based flavours. It's a refreshingly light sauce that combines some really nice elements to change the palette that one normally associates with pasta. Frankly, I will make this again. It's not a particularly difficult dish to make, it's a nice change from the marinara and carbonara sauces, and we should all be trying new foods to change up the old standards we've become used to during this pandemic.

Was it life-changing as Tucci stated in Searching For Italy? I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly changed the sauce ideas one can use for pasta if one is needing a change. The biggest takeaway I can offer on this is that the cheese will overpower the other flavours if you overdo the cheese in the sauce and as a garnish, but that's where you can adjust the amounts to find that happy medium that your palette likes. You should always be cooking for your tastes and not mine or Stanley Tucci's tastes.

That being said, spaghetti alla nerano will make reappearances in my kitchen when I need a change. It's fun, it's easy, it gives me a reason to eat zucchini, and it's a tasty, new way to enjoy pasta. It didn't change my life like it did for Stanley Tucci, but it did change my outlook towards pasta. Consider this food indulgence as "Italy found".

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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