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.
Never heard of this squash! Great recipe.
looking for a recipie for a gagootz marmalade and then a cookie from the marmalade,,,ever hear of it..???or know the recipie???please forward…
Paula, cucuzza and zucchini are interchangable. There are plenty of recipes on the internet for zucchini marmalade. I have never made it myself but it sounds interesting. Only thing if you use the cucuzza you have to peel off the skin. I don’t know about the cookie, sorry. Good luck on your quest.
Hi still on my quest…but I think I am getting closer…funny how three years later took me back to this reply…
My dad would call us Gagootz when we were little and now I call my granddaughters this too.
This is my first year growing the plant myself and I have three nice sized fruits. Can’t wait to
cook them and share with friends and family.
Carmell, I’ve been called a lot worse. 🙂 Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Donna Zito Rieder
Grew up eating Cucuzza as a child. My Grandpa Frank Zito grew them in his yard and we had them quit often. He lived to be 103 years old and died on September 24, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
God bless your Grandpa, 103 years old! I’m sure the cucuzza helped.
I just made a wonderful dish using cucuzza, eggplant, and tomatoes from my garden, I added some garlic, mushrooms, saffron, and virgin olive oil, sautéed it down and it’s ready to eat. I little different then my father’s dish but with some nice semolina bread, it’s a great fall dish.
Mmmmmm! Sounds delicious.
I’d love your recipe as well, including the semolina bread. Perhaps you can post it at this site? Thanks. Josie
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading your blog. It brought back lots of childhood memories . I too, grew up in Brooklyn. We had the huge exhaust fan as well, until we got a window air conditioner, that also lived in the living room window.
We went to the movies to cool off, and week ends were for Coney Island.
I also, remember your recipes and am cooking Cucuzza right now and the house smells wonderful. Keep writing. I for one, look forward to more of your stories and recipes.
Thank you Helene. I look forward to wonderful comments from readers like you.
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I just received a very long cucuzza from a neighbor. Never heard of it before until I was reading your blog and they refered it to gagootz, well well thats what it is? Of course I have heard that before growing up in Kearny, NJ with Italian grandparents that came from Italy. Now for me to tackle this wonderful squash. Thanks for the great blog and memories.
Janice, any way you slice it, or pronounce it, it’s delicious!
DO YOU HAVE RECIPES FOR COOKING GAGOOTS BESIDES STEW ????????????
Howard, check under my “vegetable” category. You’ll find Zucchini with pasta and mint and Pasta con Zucchini. Of course you can sub the zucchini with cucuzza. There is also Zucchini Fritters.
Hi Pete, Hope you can help me. I am interested in making cuccuzzata. The candied squash that they use in cannoli’s and cakes. I am not sure what kind of squash to use. One person said, watermelon rind. But since it is out of season right now, I would like to know a specific winter squash that I can use.
Rosemary, I have not had experience making cuccuzzata, but I found a site the will help you with a recipe.
http://siciliancookingplus.com/Zuccata-Pumpkin.html Let me know how you make out.
When do I add the fresh basil leaves to the recipe.
At the end. Take the sauce off the heat then add the basil
I am looking forward to trying this recipe in a cooking class I am teaching. We will be harvesting CUCUZZI fresh from the garden. How many people does this recipe serve? I am preparing pasta for this dish as well. The recipe needs to serve 10 people, but will be served in small bowls. The amounts look like they will serve 8 or more, but not 100% sure? Thank you!
Cori I would increase the recipe by half just to be safe. Enjoy.
have you made or eaten cucuzza bread?
Yes I have. You can use the cucuzza the same as you would zucchini. Skin it and grate it into your recipe.
I am having problems growing the cucuzzi, my first time. The cucumber beetle is eating the blooms. I am growing them for my 92 year old Aunt who is Sicilian and loves the squash. All her friends that grew them have passed so she is craving these. She told me if I can’t get the squash then get her the leaves. She makes soup from them. Can you advise how to harvest the leaves. Do I just cut the leaves from the vines or cut the whole vine? P.S. if you have any advice for the beetles I could sure use it.
Rosemary, you can just cut the leaves off without upsetting the vine. You don’t want to take every leaf off, especially if you have fruit on the plant. As far as the beetles are concerned I would suggest you go to your local garden center and see what they recommend. Good luck.
Peter – Would you know any store or individual willing to sell a couple of cucuzza in the NY area ? I live in lower Connecticut and can’t find a source. Years ago my Grandparents from Brooklyn would grow plenty and I love eating them.
John, here is a good place to start: https://www.growitalian.com/zuchetta-serpent-of-sicily-cucuzza-146-43/
There is Gilbert’s farm stand in Rocky Hill, Ct where I have gotten my my gagutsa “fix” each year. This year my neighbor promised to grow for me if I could get seeds. I was able to get them from Comstock-Ferre in Old Wethersfield, Ct and the plants have taken off! We picked our first 3-ft. beauty and I have it cooking right now in that wonderful stew that my grandmother always served with broken spaghetti in place of the potatoes. The aroma is a wonderful trip down Memory Lane to my childhood in Brooklyn!
In case you’re still looking, Rareseeds.com sells cucuzza seeds online. I’m growing them now in my garden.
Can i use it for zucchini bread?
Emily, sure you can use for zucchini bread. Just peel and use like you would regular zucchini.
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My mom made her “cagootza” stew with Italian sausage to make it a full meal. Very similar as your recipe only add browned sausage to the mixture….serve with Italian bread. Getting ready to cook mine now…YUM!!
JoAnn, that sounds pretty good. I have to try it.
Just tried Cucuzza for the first time this morning, simply fried in olive oil as I would zucchini. Yum!
I’m fortunate to have a plot in the public garden across the street, and gardens on my front and back balconies. I’m growing Thai Bottle Gourd (same family) on the front balcony.
The public garden is about 80% Bengalis. They also grow a gourd that is similar to Cucuzza. Their gourd is almost immune to cucumber beetles and other insects, so I decided to give the Sicilian version a try. I harvested my first 4 1/2 foot fruit yesterday, and just ate some for the 1st time.
It fries us similarly to zucchini. Reminds me of Zucchino Rampicante, another monster Italian squash. Tastes delicious. I have lots of gagootz left in the fridge. Look forward to trying some recipes.
I was surprised when a Bengali garden “neighbor” told me she grew Cucuzza last season. This thing gets around.