You rarely find this vegetable in the supermarkets, if at all. But if you lived in Brooklyn or any Italian neighborhood you could find cucuzza growing in just about everyone’s garden. It was as much a part of summer as the tomato.
Cucuzza is Italian Squash. I used to love hearing my grandmother saying “cucuzza”, or as the next generation called it, “gagootz”. There is something earthy about it. Even Louis Prima sang about Cucuzza. The seeds would be brought over from Italy and once they were planted would produce these huge, light green colored, sometimes 3-4 feet long, most of the time curled squash that hung from tall vines. Neighbors would share their seeds with neighbors if anyone forgot to save them from the previous year’s crop. Once you got your hands on a cucuzza, and it was mature enough, you could save some seeds and have a planting for next season.
You prepare cucuzza as you would zucchini or any other squash. So if you don’t have a source of cucuzza don’t fret, zucchini will work just as well. You can make a vegetable stew out of it, add it to macaroni, fry it, stuff it, steam it. It goes as well with pasta as it does with meat.
My mother and grandmother usually made cucuzza with macaroni. It was basically a fresh tomato sauce with garlic and onion and fresh basil with the cucuzza cooked in the sauce and then served over the pasta. (see my post of “Pasta con Zucchini”) Another way they made it was in a vegetable stew with potatoes, carrots and onions. This way is best eaten as a side dish with some meat or fish. If you leave out the potatoes you can add this version to macaroni as well.
- 3-4 pounds cucuzza (or zucchini), peeled and cubed
- 1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 2 medium onions. 1/4 inch sliced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1- 28 ounce can of San Marzano peeled tomatoes, puree
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 6-7 fresh basil leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cut the cucuzza into quarters. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the skin off the cucuzza.
Cut each piece into quarters again, and if the seeds are overgrown and developed cut them out. Cut into 1/2″ cubes.
Peel and cut the potatoes into the same size you cut the cucuzza. Peel and slice the carrots into 1/4″ rounds. Cut the onions into 1/2″ slices.
In a large saute pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the carrots and onions and saute till onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the puree peeled tomatoes, rinse the tomato can with 1/2 cup water and add to the pot and stir to mix. Add the cucuzza and potatoes, bay leaf and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to simmer and then reduce heat to medium and cover and cook down about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat until sauce thickens, about another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning.
Take off of heat and stir in 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Stir well.