Chef Danielle Alvarez’s new cookbook, Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking, is just as lovely as the recipes it bears. Inside, Alvarez distils her continents-spanning experience into a series of recipes designed for cooking for family and friends. Its influences traverse growing up with her Cuban family in Miami, her time at legendary Californian restaurant Chez Panisse and the years she’s spent in Sydney since moving there to open seminal Paddington restaurant Fred’s, which she departed in 2022. It reveals the produce-driven approach she picked up at Chez Panisse and continued at Fred’s, and her love for French and Italian food – the latter has influenced this recipe.
“Nerano is a small village on the Amalfi Coast of Italy,” writes Alvarez. “This dish is thought to have been created by a woman named Maria Grazia in her restaurant there, which bears her name, and although the original recipe is not known, this is my best distillation. The original dish uses provolone del Monaco, a local cheese that can be hard to find outside of the area. Parmigiano-Reggiano isn’t totally correct but it’s still delicious. This is a perfect summer pasta and makes great use of a glut of zucchini.
“This book was always meant to be a celebration of that which is humble, that which respects waste, that which is better at home than anywhere else. On reflection, it could happily just have been a book about the magical qualities of pasta water. As the salty water is bubbling around the pasta, a beautiful exchange is occurring. The pasta is swelling, seasoning itself from the inside out as it absorbs its saline bath, meanwhile the water is amalgamating with the glutens and proteins that are making their escape from the pasta. The water becomes cloudy and slightly translucent as the three ingredients make love. All these pasta recipes make use of this alchemy, but this one in particular should convince you of its wonder.”
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You will need a mandolin or a very sharp knife for this recipe.
Danielle Alvarez’s spaghetti alla Nerano
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
6 small zucchinis (about 400–500g)
½ cup (125ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to finish
400g dried spaghetti
3 garlic cloves, minced
50g unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup (50g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra to finish
2 cups (60g) basil leaves (about 1 bunch), loosely packed, plus extra to garnish
Fine sea salt
Black pepper, freshly cracked
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Slice the zucchini into very thin rounds using a mandolin (or a very sharp knife).
Heat a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and, when it’s hot, add in a third of the zucchini slices. Fry until they are lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Use a skimmer or spoon to scoop them out onto a plate. Fry the remaining zucchini in another two batches and set aside. Pour out half the olive oil used to fry the zucchini and save it for another use. Keep the rest in the pan.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in your spaghetti and cook until al dente. Reserve a mug of the pasta water before draining the spaghetti.
Return the first pan to a medium heat and add the garlic, letting it sizzle until it becomes fragrant. Add in the fried zucchini and scoop a ladleful of the pasta water into the pan. Stir and crush the zucchini so that some pieces break down and some remain intact.
Add the spaghetti to the zucchini pan and stir in half of the reserved water. Turn the heat to high. When the liquid is almost completely reduced, turn the heat down to low and add in the butter, cheese and basil. Toss vigorously, using a wooden spoon or tongs, to combine and create a creamy sauce. Add more of the pasta water as needed. Taste the pasta for seasoning and adjust with salt.
Divide the pasta between four bowls and top with more grated parmesan, the extra basil leaves, pepper and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serve with wedges of lemon.
Images and text from Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking by Danielle Alvarez with Libby Travers, photography by Alan Benson. Murdoch Books RRP $49.99.